A guest post by Camilla Palestra
Comme des Marxists – a Project by Rainer Ganahl
Fashion Space Gallery, London
As a way to celebrate the 10thanniversary of the Centre for Sustainable Fashion at the London College of Fashion, I had the pleasure of working with Austrian American artist Rainer Ganahl, to present for the first time in the UK his ongoing project Comme des Marxists. Creating a dialogue between contemporary art and fashion, drawing inspiration from sources as diverse as artists Kazimir Malevich, Blinky Palermo, Joseph Beuys and Richard Serra; designer Karl Lagerfeld; fashion houses Comme des Garçons and Hermès; high-street brands such as Benetton and Joe Fresh, and whistle-blower Edward Snowden, the exhibition investigates the relationship between daily life, political and economic structures, labour and culture.
COMME des MARXISTS, installation view at the Fashion Space Gallery, London, 2018. Photo Katy Davies]
Interested in the production of knowledge and the role of education, Rainer moves unconventionally between media and styles, including drawing, video, photography, installation and performance. In 2013 he was invited by Performa New York to produce a performative work. For the first time in his career he turned to fashion as a tool to convey his messages and, with the collaboration of professional designers, manufacturers and students, he produced a series of collections that were presented in a catwalk at the White Column in New York. The body of work was called Comme des Marxists, after a visit to the Comme des Garçons store in New York, where the artist saw a felt collection that borrowed heavily from the Constructivist designs of the Russian artist Varvara Stepanova.
COMME des MARXISTS, catwalk, White Columns, New York, 2013 / Performa 2013.
COMME des MARXISTS, Class Struggle, 2013, felt. Model: Adrian Saich.
Since then Rainer has continued to expand the collection whenever he felt the urgency to address new issues, raise questions and provoke debate.
The 2008 global financial crisis and the failure of the bank system was central to his initial concept, encompassing many of the slogans, statements and discourses in collections such as Marx 99 Cents, Marx Middle Class Squeeze, snowdenmarx.gov and Snowden Marx Security, for examples. Or contemporary tragedies such as the collapse of the Rana Plaza clothing factories in Bangladesh in 2013 which shook local and global political landscapes, marking the beginning of a more vigorous and widely supported advocacy of a sustainable fashion industry.
Marx Middle Class Squeeze, Can’t pay for school, 2013, wool.
Joe Fresh Benetton, Bangladesh, Rana Plaza Building Collapse, More Than Eleven Hundred People Died, 2013, silk screen on cotton.
These days he is not less busy, with the Trump administration that recently delivered another significant contribution to his Trumpism series, TRUTH ISN’T TRUTH. Or with the story around the prescription painkiller OxyContin by Purdue Pharma, owned by the multibillionaire philanthropic Sackler family, which fuelled an epidemic in the US that has become deadlier than gun violence and car accidents, counting nearly 200 people dying from overdoses every day in 2017. Constantly generating new ideas, as I write Rainer is working on new pieces for a catwalk in London as his response and contribution to the debate around Brexit in the UK and the yellow vests movement in France.
COMME des MARXISTS, installation view at the Fashion Space Gallery, London, 2018. Photo Katy Davies
While fashion is the channel used in Comme des Marxists, it is the first time that the project finds its space in a fashion institution, for a predominantly fashion audience. As curator I was interested if and how the message and the shift between entertainment and antagonism would be altered in such different context. I posed the question to Rainer who replied: ‘I can’t answer this question, but I very much look forward to learning more about it. But my guess is that, independently of how people are trained or conditioned to look at and read things according to their habits and context, they still can distinguish between the subtle and not-so-subtle semiotic games I offer.’
Camilla Palestra is the curator of Comme des Marxists at the Fashion Space Gallery and member of the Centre for Sustainable Fashion.