I was recently engaged in a conversation about how various forms of experimental creativity are being subsumed into the art world. Where there was once a field called “experimental cinema,” with programming and an audience to support it, there is now “video art,” including feature films, exhibited and distributed by galleries. What was once considered “experimental fiction,” is now sometimes called “art writing,” and is commissioned by galleries for catalogs. I’ve heard of philanthropic endeavors carried out as “art,” philosophical inquiries presented as “art.” The content of the work from before this phenomena versus now hasn’t changed—cinema is still cinema; poetry remains poetry; charity, charity—what’s changed is the context, and with it, the market.
The art market lends certain things to a creative product that other industries may not, like an active, educated, often-moneyed audience. Like international distribution through fairs and galleries. Like discourse: the anchorage of intention, the default expectation of an artist’s statement, which adds conceptual value to things like movies, novels, GIFs, video games, or fashion. This is the sphere within which Anna-Sophie Berger is making clothes.
Anna-Sophie Berger takes photographs. She makes videos. She creates performance and text-based art. She is currently working on a digital/print publication called ohneohne with two of her friends. She also designs fashion collections. This is how I first came in contact with Anna-Sophie Berger. One of the garments from her 2011 “m/m2” collection was included in an editorial in a fashion magazine I like to read. That collection was photographed for several magazines, among them Vice, AnOther, Nylon and Indie. It was also exhibited in a gallery in New York earlier this year. Artist/curator Margaret Lee bought a dress from that show and was spotted wearing it to the Frieze Art Fair in New York last month. (Fashion as fashion. Fashion as art. Art as fashion. Fashion with art.)
Anna-Sophie Berger debuted her most recent collection yesterday. Titled “Fashion is Fast,” the collection consists of several groups of four garments, with each group exploring a different trope or motif in fashion production, like the measurements of a dress or the pant suit of an elected official. “At the beginning of this collection I was asking myself questions about the formal codes of trends in fashion,” her artist’s statement reads, “If a trend was to be described by its means to contradict the previous, I am interested in these contrasts.” The collection is striking as it both literalizes the methods of fashion production while being commercially viable. There is not an item in there I wouldn’t wear.
I spoke with Anna-Sophie Berger in the weeks before her collection launched about “fast fashion” and what it means to make clothes in an art setting.
What does “fashion is fast” mean in the context of your collection?
I would say “fashion is fast” is an ironic as much as honest illustration of fashion and trend; a formal exploration of the meaning of being IN and OUT of time, as perceived by society. I am dealing with the basic concepts and rules of fashion/collection production. Through serial presentation of garments in groups of four, I allow a sort of formal comparison between aspects that I isolated as essential for the conception of the trends and garments of a time. The mathematical fact of a skirt having a width of 90, as opposed to a skirt width of 360, executed as real garments present the dimension of change achieved through a seemingly banal equation. Fashion is fast. My collection title is an allusion to all of that: to the fact that the industry is fast, the fact that shapes change fast in the pursuit of the new or the innovative. While at the same time, as the artist, I understand myself to be struggling with this urge for commercialized speed.
The collection you showed at the JTT Gallery in New York earlier this year paired a white and black grid print with deconstructed tailoring. This contrast, to me, mirrored the taking apart of field barriers—between fashion and gallery art—that you do in your practice. I was hoping you might be able to comment on how you both represent divisions and also break with traditions?
Your question really nails down a topic I find myself constantly busy with these days. As much as enjoy how I seem to be able to present my work in different medias, it still sometimes puts me in conflict with both fashion and art contexts. There naturally comes this urge to place me, to define where I belong. Going to New York to show my collection at JTT and actually having to, for the first time, price the pieces for an art context—to define these pieces as unique and then getting to see people buy them—that made me happy. It felt more natural than an idea of commercial production ever did. At the same time, I am not fully opposed to doing a commercial run of my garments.
One thing that is key to this question—of whether to produce or not, of whether to have only one piece in a gallery versus having one thousand in a shop—is a certain freedom that I want to save to myself. I am not interested in, what are to me, outdated concepts of fashion industry, like the doctrine of seasonal presentation and these inflicted rules of how one ought to behave as a designer/fashion house. My priority has always been my artistic conceptual ideas. I want to have the freedom to define my relationship with my objects, with my work; to have the freedom to place them in the context that I consider most fit for them. Gallery and art contexts suit what I’m interested in right now, which is to present executed ideas, and to ask the viewer, and ultimately the consumer, to indulge in these ideas with me.
What would you identity as the thorough lines between your work in different fields, besides your hand? What are the questions or challenges that prompt you to create?
What links my work is not an overall formal aim. I would never try to make a garment look like my photographs. I am usually very interested in media-inherent questions: asking questions about dressing when designing a garment; asking questions of photographic practice and perception when working with photography. Ultimately, I have a great confidence in transmedia practice.
Images courtesy of Anna-Sophie Berger. Photography by Maria Ziegelböck. Styling by Martina Tiefenthaler. Hair by Wolfgang Lindenhofer. Make-Up by Nicole Jaritz. Model: Jana Wieland. All garments (c) Anna-Sophie Berger.