This week’s philandering through the halls of mirrors has taken me via the ersatz rabbit hole to the burning questions: Why is the world enthralled by death-glam and Is it possible that George W Bush and Marilyn Manson have some profound thing in common?
To start with the latter, we all kind of knew that George W Bush was something different to whatever he was when he was President. We caught an unexpected and titillating glimpse of who that real person might be when the paintings he made of himself in his bathtub, and himself in his shower, were leaked by a hacker who broke through to the private account where he was sharing these tender self-portraits with his sister, last year. Besides the obvious feeling of hacker-envy that this disclosure might have brought up for us, which for me involved having to re-watch The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo at least three times with a lot of popcorn in order to experience hacker-envy-fulfillment; there was also the weird feeling of Omigod, the former President, the very same person who war mongered his way across the Middle Eastern part of our world throughout his entire reign, and said and did a lot of un-humanitarian and actually unintelligible things that cannot have been good by any translation, this very same scary person CAN PAINT. Now that his portraits of World Leaders are on show for reals at his self-named Presidential Library and Museum, in Texas, it has become official: George W is an artiste.
If this is not one of the more startling examples of art and life galloping across one another and getting all frisky, then let us consider some of the work. The self-portrait, not in the bath, nor in the shower, but actually of just his face staring into the viewer, is honest, and painted with lively strokes that if we can say it out loud, make us feel sad, like we’re sensing the boy before he became the man that his parents wanted him to be, who all along longed to dress in dirty overalls and be very silly and splash paint across rooms and apply it gently to absorbent surfaces.
As for the earlier self-portraits, do we go there? Asking ourselves why the former leader of the nation and of world power should feel compelled to render himself in paint looking defenceless in water with hairy naked legs and with strangely-shaped naked back, in such non-Republican fashion? I think we’ll leave that floating and just admire how well he captured his bow legs.
The portrait of Vladimir Putin has had the most press, probably because of all the things the sensitive brush strokes say about the Russian leader’s dark side – namely that it’s dark, and those cold eyes, they are very cold, and no wonder the Ukraine is in a spot of bother.
What is to be made of the mauve background? This may be where we segue into Marilyn Manson.
Best known for his psychopathic hermaphroditic gothic variety of musical frenzy, and for once-dating Dita Von Teese, Marilyn Manson is the very institution of Dark Side. As far as aesthetic degrees of opposition go, if there was a George W anti-christ, Marilyn might be it. But instead, the singer has been busy in his studio too, painting paintings too, just like his arch-nemesis, and his paintings, like the former President’s, are also very beautiful, and kind of spooky, and strangely colorful, and somehow sad. On show right now at the Groninger Museum in northern Holland, they are a series of emotional watercolors that give the viewer a vertiginous feeling. Like in this not-waterlily otherworld I will fill with a disturbing sensation, and I may begin to feel uneasily that unicorns are in charge of the cinematography again but this time, they are black.
If the question is whether dark leaders are actually deeply vulnerable, and The Shadow, as The Beastie Boys once sang, is just the absence of light, the answer would have to be: yes.
In the wake of all this shadowiness, it was no great leap to attend the much-anticipated fashion show of emerging Montreal talent Ben Lafaille. Entitled Down the Web-It Hole and populated by cross-dressing vampy debutantes, this is where, if we haven’t guessed it already, I went deep down the rabbit hole, and not only did art imitate life but darkness made all the sense in the world.
So enthralled by the androgynous latex-and-faux-fur spectacle that swooped along the runway – I arranged to meet with the designer after the show. Over Arizona iced teas and chocolate chip cookies, he told me about the Deep Web, and the yearning his tween following feels for all that is glamorously deathly.
Ben. What made you use the deep web as inspiration for wearable things?
The Deep Web is my obsession of the moment. My clientele is young, it’s the 15 to 25 year olds who are partying on their parents’ credit cards. They want to see different stuff than what they usually see in clothing.
But why the D E E P web, it’s not the same as the normal web.
The Deep Web it’s true, is very deep. Where do people want to go? They want to go down. So much weird stuff happens there. There’s radically experimental music, snuff porn, strange drugs, hit men. It’s intense. You can order weapons that are delivered to your door in professional boxes. You can be a pedophile and communicate with all the other pedophiles in the world through a secret code. You can put your child up for sale. You can hire a hit and someone will really get killed. The thing that fascinates me is that it’s real. It’s not just a platform, it’s a place.
Are you inviting your clientele to feel at home in this place by wearing your clothes?
My clientele is curious, they are wanting to explore new territory and go to where no one has ever been to before. We are called the Degenerate Digital Generation because we are into fetish. It’s weird to say but in my research I found these pictures of suffocation that were very beautiful. There is something fascinating about the negative. There are less barriers for us now between our dreams and what we have access to. Like porn is so mainstream that we are all porn stars now, we live with porn and we are doing porn. It’s a normal job now.
There’s this new thing called Sneaker in the gay scene where you hire this anonymous person to dress in sneakers and a tracksuit and they come and find you and hit and rape you. It’s the porn rape fantasy – people want to live the real experience. Part of my philosophy with this collection is a little comment: this is for real. Dreams have consequences.
That’s an unusual dress code for a raping hitter. Why do the Sneaker guys wear sneakers and tracksuits, do you think?
The tracksuit I think is so that you can feel the softness. The sneakers I think are so that you can get a shoe in the face. They are called the Scally Lads. This is a burning subculture. We always need a new invention.
How have you worked invention into your Down the Web-It Hole collection?
There is a link between the title of my collection and the expression behind it: it’s
an unknown place where you can lose yourself. Alice in Wonderland gets lost, is prone to obsession, has to face psychedelic obstacles through which she sometimes can’t find the way. The soft textures I use reflect this element of the hidden and the enfantin.
My clothes are for the young and the avant-garde. It’s fake fur, rayon, vinyl and latex. I use them to illustrate how the negative can be turned into something appealing. With the tees I print slogans that comment on social and cultural issues. Overall, the clothes have the future feeling. By 2020 the Internet will reach more viewers than TV. The TV is not an old invention but it is already out. To be at the very forefront of ideas, whether you are in the deepest web or evoking the farthest planet from Earth, is refreshing. It’s the opposite of minimal and classical. It’s total decadence.
Stay tuned for regular contributions of life imitating art by our Pop Talks columnist Caia Hagel.
Caia Hagel’s personality profiles, fictions, cultural travelogues and art+design thoughts appear in magazines, in advertising, and on social media and TV networks internationally.