UpStreet n°36, may 2002, p.58 - 61 (UK)

 

 

by Chloé Delaume

GORE + CHIC = VERY CHIC

A DESIGNER ON THE BORDERS OFTHE REAL MOVES FINE ARTS INTO READY-TO-WEAR.
ENCOUNTER WITH OLIVIER GOULET,
ACTIVIST OF THE METAPHOR.

Beginning February. A small, unpretentious Chinese restaurant. The waiter didn't ask me if I wanted the special, but Eric Arlix crossed the room holding out a pod. That Arlix always has odd things. Bionic watches, trousers that are not made out of material and a pile of thingamajigs that give me the impression l'm the most obsolete girl on Earth. And here he has evidently stolen Allegra Geller’s pod. I thought he would bring out the PS 3, but not at all. Just a bag he said. Even though it's called the SkinBag and a modern artist made it. It's in latex, in skin-coloured tints, there are several models and it's really practical. I noted the address of Olivier Goulet’s site and I promised myself to tidy up my DVD's. If ExistenZ starts to make incursions into the real I really am going to be in the shit when it s Shining's turn.

"At last an epidermic, polysemic accessory, a successtul alchemy between captivating & repuisive for less complaisant fashion but terrible efficacy." That's the best possible definition of a SkinBag. I ordered one and the first time I walked around with it I had the impression I was taking part in an installation. Already because of its art work side: each bag is unique and numbered to reach maximum personalisation. During the manufacturing process inscriptions, dedications, text, images or logos that characterise the future owner are inserted into the material like tattoos. And then peoples' reactions are fairly lively, and the way they eye up this object makes one presume they undergo a shock before thinking about it. People stopped me all along the way to the local store, astounded. It was strange. In spite of myself I d become part of a new kind of performance, ready-to-wear body art. But this sensation dibn't last, probably because I spend more time in old ladies' cafés than at arty evenings. Twenty-four hours after I got the SkinBag, it had become an accessory, a singular one of course, totally integrated in my look. Its functional side imposed itself, a lot lighter than leather. Such supple material allows to stuff in a quintal of muck and it's always pleasant to wander around with a Mary Poppins' bag.

I wanted to see up closer if Olivier Goulet worked at Anthena and if the equation proposed by Claude Closky to qualify the SkinBag was packed with unknowns or with several degrees: "Gore + Chic = Very Chic" is an axiom that turns out to be fairly just in the end and the meeting with this designer beyond norms allows one to briefly catch a glimpse of fashion as a fertile ground for artistic activism.

CHLOÉ DELAUME: WHERE DOES THE SKINBAG COME FROM?

OLIVIER GOULET: I've been working on the idea of territory-skin-bodyorganism for years. La Vente de Territoire Par Correspondance (Mail Order Territory Sales) lists and markets pieces of digitalized skin on Gilles Virget’s body through Internet. The idea of taking samples of bits of bodies was therefore already there. Then I marinated ideas on my Sac à Os (Bone Bag) project, I triturated the matter in all kinds of ways until I succeeded in dividing it into two distinct propositions: La Relique de l'homme bionique (The Relic of the Bionic Man), which treats the relationship of the structural functioning between man and machine; and the SkinBag that develops the superficial, the pocket. The disassociation of the skeleton and the epidermis allows me to preserve the metaphorical aspect of each proposition. On one side a flabby container without a structure; on the other a skeletal structure without an envelope. SkinBag is therefore the fruit of slow maturation that ended up with an object that is at once autonomous and bears multiple meanings. Its polysemy fascinates me.

WHAT DO YOU MEAN BY THIS IDEA OF POLYSEMY?

SkinBag has an immediately recognisable form: it is a bag or a waistcoat, whose material is sufficiently intriguing for everyone to react and interpret it his own way. For example, some women see it as a "portable placenta" and the handles as umbilical cords. Other people get past their initial unease and find this kind of adaptation of biopower interesting. Others again completely refuse any contact, even any discussion, as they allow themselves to be dominated by their disgust. It is evident that they refuse a part of themselves. The softness of the bags evokes regression, the troubled, primary aspect we have. Itis shapelessness does that too. Happily, most people feel naturally attracted by these objects. They instinctively desire to touch them. What's more that's what lim seeking, SB had to be a sensual vehicle, I want it to provoke the desire to caress it.

PROVOKE THE DESIRE TO CARESS OR SIMPLY PROVOKE?

Provocation is not an end in itself, but a communication vector. It opens up a possibility for contact. Either verbal or tactile. It's this mixture of the attractive and the repulsive that always interests me.

THEREFORE THE SKINBAG IS A REAL PROLONGATION OF HIS BODY FOR THE OWNER.

Effectively, for various reasons. Above all the SkinBag is an identity attribute, a voluntary act to render the inside of one's body visible. Skin is an invitation to extend one's body. The natural extension is the bag. One carries one's personal belongings in it, those one must keep with one. There are various different models, depending on what one wants to do with them. I'm looking for the container par excellence for each use. There is the rucksack, the shopping bag, the handbag... The skin represents the body to such a point that anything covered with skin becomes an autonomous organism, in particular if it has digitalized functions. One goes from the bag to stuff everything into, to the special bagthatfunctions more as an envelopewherethe stuffed skin becomes protection. There are computer SkinBags, or again the banana pixel that is worn siung over the shouider and contains a still or movie camera.

To cover our machines with an organic skin is the first symbolical step for me towards the integration of electronic prostheses, either superficially or inside our bodies. I want to place our electronic and computer organs in a charnel envelope. From then on the passage to the garment, the suit that protects our body, seems natural. The waistcoats are a first clothing proposition. I chose to begin with the necessary superfluousness of the double skin. I don't sew clothes, I mouid them. Ités the anatomy and the physiognomy of a person that gives me the print for this second skin. The waistcoat is skincoloured but resembles a scalped body with muscles and nerves that have come to the surface.

THEREFORE FASHION WOULD BE THE BEST WAY TO PROPAGATE THIS RELATIONSHIP TO THE BODY?

Fashion ? I don’t know. The universe of fashion is meaby more stimulant and reactif than that of modern art, too much ocupeted with the sacrality of the decoratif and spectulatif objects. In the beginning the SkinBags were more a proposition with artistic reflections that a designer's approach. Though one has to realise that finally these objects integrate perfectly into the field of contemporary fashion. To invest the field of appearance on the terrain and not only in galleries is necessary for this approach. I’m finally interested in seeing over the fashion and try to define the tomorrow's man.

IT'S A FORM OF ACTIVISM. IS THE ADOPTION OF THE SB RELATED TO TAKING A STAND FOR YOU?

The classic SB, the first bag with the name is a symbol of the brand. It comes from the imitation of a supermarket bag. It's the synthesis between mass consumption and individual skin. This classical theme of the XXth century industrial consumer society remains pertinent. I never believed in a sterilized future like those who would like us to think up environments and simulations as computer generated images. Tomorrow's world will not be hyper clean. We won't escape our bodies, that organic pile we are, so quickly. Right to the end I will retain a noble idea of the disfunction of iliness and death. Our being is constructed in our matter: blood, flesh, fat and all those soft, complex materials that make up the support of that which allows us to confront the worid. Organic things will not become digitalized, but digital technology will become organic.


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