Gertrud Arndt

Last week I was lucky enough to go on a study trip to the amazing city that is Berlin. I could go on and on about how wonderful the city was, and how I finally feel I have a true understanding of West Berlin vs. East Berlin (lets put it this way- GCSE history gave me a completely erroneous view), but I am going to focus on something that I feel is “blog relevant”. Henceforth, I’m looking at an amazing small exhibition at the Bauhaus archive on Gertrud Arndt (nee Hantschk).
Regular readers of my blog will know I have a bit of a thing for the Bauhaus, particularly the amazing women who were part of it and Arndt was just one of these ladies. The exhibition looks into two sides of Arndt’s work, both her textiles and her later photography. Arndt is an interesting figure, as she studied weaving at the Bauhaus despite her primary interest being in architecture. For Arndt there was no choice in what to study, as at the time she entered the Bauhaus there was no architecture department. Her photography work came later, after she had married fellow Bauhaus student Alfred Arndt and this is what really interested me.

Arndt’s photography was focused primarily on self portraiture, with only the occasional portrait taken of others (often fellow Bauhaus members) and was (in her own words) a product of “sheer boredom”. It is fascinating therefore that these pictures have now come to be so highly regarded, elevated to the status of art photography. Often Arndt’s name is placed as a pioneer of such documentary self portraiture, precursors of the work by the likes of Cindy Sherman but I think this neglects the real story of what she was doing. I feel these stand in the position of early “selfies” intended as a highly personal moment, and not meant for the outside world. This suggests why Arndt herself was reluctant for these to be exhibited in her lifetime, it wasn’t a fact that they were poor work, rather they were a part of her.  They show Arndt dressed in costume in a number of different poses, and are refreshing for the fact that they are meaningless, taken without real purpose- other than to quell boredom. This doesn’t mean that I didn’t enjoy the pictures (I’ll be honest I LOVED them) but it just means that the context of them- when placed in an exhibition such as they were, needs to be thought about carefully.

Today there is an undeniable cult of the selfie, whether it be through blogs, twitter, facebook, instagram or photos taken of the self simply to pass the time (hands up who has done this before). I started to wonder how in the future such images that we take may be used in a similar manner to Arndt’s. Thinking of my own personal feelings towards such selfies made me understand why Arndt was reluctant for an exhibition of such images. For her it was a form of experimentation, and it wasn’t so much to do with experimenting with  photography, moreover about experimenting with herself. The clothes she wears, the poses, the intriguing make up all suggest this. Today we are so used to the endless self portraits on the internet that we might normalize Arndt’s portraiture, I think that context needs to be remembered with respect of this exhibition, and that in the 1930s this was a far more unusual thing to do. It is no doubt intriguing though that as Arndt’s status as a former Bauhaus student increased that meaning was placed onto these photographs. 30 years from now may we be seeing public exhibitions of images that originally were posted on Instagram in a fleeting moment of vanity? I can certainly see this as the next step on.

Gertrud Arndt, Mask Portrait, Dessau 1930, No. 13

(sorry that I couldn’t offer better pictures, the Bauhaus archive is strictly NO PICUTRES ALLOWED…or feel the wrath of a scary German woman ; ) )

If you are interested the Gertrud Arndt exhibition is still on now at the Berlin Bauhaus archive.

Tim Walker- Story teller at Somerset House

Every once in a while you get the opportunity to view an exhibition that takes your breath away. Yesterday I had one of those moments. The exhibition is question? Tim Walker: Storyteller at Somerset house.
I’ve long since been a fan of  Tim Walkers work (I blogged about his work here). I think the image above was one of the first Walker shoots I saw in Vogue (ah the days when I had a Vogue subscription. Sigh). His work with its creative, quirky, playful and dreamlike nature has always appealed greatly to me.
Somehow the exhibition manages to be light and fun yet serious, dramatic and highly emotional. I found myself in tears at one point because Walkers photography seen blown up large scale is just sobeautiful.
In particular there is a photograph of Alexander McQueen with a skull from 2009, blown up large scale. I’m actually not going to share the image here, because I feel you need to see it to appreciate it. But the image, which must have been taken only a year or less before McQueen’s death has a poignancy and a realism and also seems to speak volumes about McQueen’s personality.
This exhibition also captures something of Walkers persona. From interviews I’ve read with him this exhibition simply feels like he must have had a lot of input.  It’s the play with scale that so captures Walkers sensibilities.
The length of the exhibition too was just right. It felt enough to satisfy a fan of Walkers work, yet in the same breath not too long to bore someone who had only a passing interest. I will say at this point the exhibition focuses on Walkers work from the past ten years (possibly less I’m not 100% sure what the earliest photo was) as the Design Museum has previously held an exhibition which focused on his earlier work (2008).
The setting of Somerset house is perfect for Walker’s work. There is some sense of homeliness in the rooms of the East Wing. You feel like you are entering into Walkers own personal space, into his sketch book (with the giant sketches) and into his mind.
Walker’s photography here is able to be viewed as art, as it deserves to be. Taking them away from fashion shoots, as many of these images started off life. Scale here is key and the different sizes of the images help to convey different meaning of each piece of work.
Unlike many other photography exhibitions where the photograph defines the exhibition, here the props are equally important and you feel like each  room is a work of instillation art within itself.
I’d go as far to say that the presentation here made me re-think other photography exhibitions I’ve seen  ahem *Cecil Beaton and the Queen *, because this was done so well.
So, ANY criticism? There was one picture of Kate Moss that I felt was out of place in one of the rooms. Honestly, that is my SOLE fault of the exhibition.
What else can I say? The exhibition is free, so realistically you have no excuse not to go. There is also a simply stunning book that accompanies the exhibition which will definitely be going on my Christmas list.

Malcolm McLaren

As much as he may at first appear to be an unlikely kind of hero of mine I cite this man as being one of the most important figures in the world of music and fashion in the 2ndhalf of the 20th century.

The man here is Malcolm McLaren. And there is one primary message that sings out from Mclarens career; Music sells fashion and fashion sells music.
Mclaren outside Sex 1976
Malcolm McLaren today is probably best known for two things being the long term parter of Vivienne Westwood and also for being the manager of the sex pistols, although he infact did much more to change the shape of fashion and music.

Two amazing pics of Vivienne and Malcolm in 1971. They are sat in the shop at 430 Kings road when it was “Let it Rock”. Note the 1950s cabinet in the background- At this time they were selling a large amount of 1950s clothing and memorabilia, interested in the teenage rebellion of the time.

McLaren and Westwood were more than a couple. They were in fact a brilliant business team, and I think it is often forgotten that Mclaren was as much a part of early Vivienne Westwood (up to around 1983) as Westwood was herself. McLaren often pushed Westwoods creativity and he was a complete “ideas” man. Nothing was too crude or too controversial in his mind. Although, as he often said post his collaborative work with Westwood despite the punk asethic; ripped, torn, worn of what they were doing the pieces were often beautifully made with the highest quality fabrics used. Early pieces from let it rock were handstitched, and there was a certain craft, bricolage element to what they did. It is interesting to note that some of Westwood’s least successful collections were those in the first years after hers and McLarens partnership ceased, which really shows the power he had over her designs.
McLaren in 1976- John Tibieri
This is one of the most controversial garments produced by Westwood and one which she was actually against. McLaren claimed it was “ok” as he was Jewish.

Westwood in the destroy t-shirt (1977) and McLaren at his Bar Mitzvah
Two of my all time favourite pictures of the couple in 1981. I’m never sure why i love these two pictures so much. They look so relaxed at ease, and almost like a normal couple.
One of the things McLaren was so great at was branding, and creating the “image”. Supposedly he created the sex pistols in order to sell more of his and Vivienne’s t-shirts in their shop Sex/ Seditionaries (the sex pistols period saw an overlap of the two shops). Sex pistols contrary to their rebellious aesthetic were in reality one of the first “manufactured bands. The members all hung out at the shop ran by McLaren and Westwood at 430 Kings road, and Johnny Rotten was recruited to become part of the band after being spotted sporting green hair and torn clothing.
McLaren suggested that the sex pistols (despite a number of hugely influential singles) were simply a publicity stunt, and most of the things they did were for effect. Notably, their signing of a record contract in 1977 outside Buckingham palace.
I’m always intrigued that in 9 out of 10 cases the policeman is cut out of this image. Maybe in an attempt to seem that the Sex pistols act of signing their contract outside the palace was more rebellious than it infact was?

McLaren and Westwood in 1977. Westwood sports a God save the Queen t-shirt and bondage trousers.
The sex pistols were not McLarens only musical triumph, he also managed Adam and the Ants, Bow Wow Wow and provided stage costumes for the New York Dolls. Bow Wow Wow, helped to really promote the New Romantic aesthetic and again it has since been said that the brand only existed in order to promote Vivienne’s clothes. There are some wonderful images of lead singer Annabella Lwin in Vivienne Westwood clothing- mostly from the pirate collection of  1981.

Annabella Lwin 1981 and 1982
McLaren is also often credited with helping to bring hip hop to a wider audience in the UK with the group the world famous supreme team. I highly recommed a watch of the viedeo for the song “buffalo gals” which sees a group of girls in the background dancing in Vivienne Westwood’s 1982/83 collection Nostalgia of mud (also known as buffalo girls).  Demonstrating yet again McLaren’s ability to use music to sell fashion.
McLaren with models and the World famous supreme team in 1983
Post musical career though McLaren continued to influence. When watching many a mainstream programme on fashion history McLaren often pops up (partly I believe because he is such an enigmatic speaker). I highly recommend the series Undressed: fashion in the twentieth century In which he speaks exstenively about fashion history (1998).
I’ll leave you with a few particularly insightful quotes from McLaren

“I have been called many things: a charlatan, a con man, or, most flatteringly, the culprit responsible for turning British popular culture into nothing more than a cheap marketing gimmick. This is my chance to prove that these accusations are true.”

“My intention was to fail in business, but to fail as brilliantly as possible. And only if I failed in a truly fabulous fashion would I ever have the chance of succeeding.”