‘life imitates art’
POP TALKS is the sometimes editorial, sometimes interview-style talking that I will do with interesting people and about gnarly things while I nomadically trip through the internet, art fairs, design events, studios where hot things are happening, fashion shows, readings, parties, public displays of mischief and other forms of cultural graffiti making moves on the world.
My special interest in investigating art/life parallels via our vices makes me partial to sexting, pornography and video games, youth-centric media and avant-garde artistry. Because it’s me talking, I may just cast a female gaze over these topics.
I’ll begin with Lana Del Rey. In her lusty single Gods and Monsters, Lana does the impossible. She poses as a real singer, even though she is one, while mingling with sexy monstrels who are smoking a lot of things, blowing bubbles into tropical-style light leaks and toting guns. She promises that no one’s gonna take her soul away because life imitates art.
What is Lana Del Rey? A sultry self-made American Pie goth? It’s brave the way she’s unafraid of death and courts superhumans, and also alligators and mythic black Presidents with gold teeth in her self-conscious cheetah boudoir, all the while exalting American Pie-ness in an almost religious way. We long to die too in the grip of her bulbous lips. We long for our lives to imitate art, too.
This week my Lana-fuelled nomadic existence was a flaneuse jaunt through several octaves of the life-art frisson. I saw Lars Von Trier’s Nymphomaniac, all four hours of it in a row, and like every time I see his work, I was all but crucified on the red velvet chair and had to be carried out on a stretcher. How does he do that?
In this latest film, the dogma style is relaxed to a Lana-worthy sultriness and the whole becomes soft the way radiation is soft. It penetrates so deeply and so darkly that you move inside the very world, the very very sexy world, of Charlotte Gainsbourg’s fill all my holes, please taboos. These taboos and their enactor are rendered so compassionately by the so-called asshole of film, that the voyage through his heroine’s hardcore sex drive is a spiritually moving experience. What happens at the end reminds us that even in art, which means also in life, we fail to transcend the insistent penis. But we get the sense that something new is around the corner.
At home on Netflix I watched The Beautiful Person, I Am Love, and saw Blue Is the Warmest Colour again on DVD, to randomly seize the way other male directors are viewing the vulva these days. To be very general, that would be ‘virtuous but hazardous to romantics in youth and therefore: must flee’ (France), ‘deadly and self-destructive in post-youth because if you stray you don’t exist anymore, godfather-style’ (Italy) and ‘actually full of love and hotness when turned on itself, even, or especially, while weirdly penis-excluding’ (France-Africa).
I had to watch Rihanna’s Pour It Up video on loop after this to return to the American Mainstream. I did wonder – is Riri’s pole-slinging, ass-squeezing mania feministic? So I asked myself: Is she alive in her body? Yes. Is she in charge of her body? Yes. Is she throwing money in the air and dragging long fur through erotic water in spike heels like she owns us all? Yes. And is all of this framing her on a kingly throne via the pastel hues of the rainbow, as if a Unicorn is the cinematographer? Oh yes. Okay then, this girl is in charge and she knows it, I concluded. This is kind of new. It airbrushes Lil Wayne out of the driver’s seat and puts her in it instead, which is cool. She may or may not have consulted with the Unicorn about this but she is still gazing out from her side of the lens like an exhibitionist calling on us to be her gangsta-style chauvi-porn conspirators. This is also cool, if she’s in charge and she knows it and she balls us all out on time. But it’s not very new.
Which made me reflect on a gorgeous show of Viviane Sassen’s fashion photographs that I just saw at the Savannah College of Art&Design, in Georgia. Long limbs cut short by narrative framing, suggestive smoke emerging from crotches, mysterious night garden and alone-with-myself scenes where strange and angularly placed subjects are vivacious with what feels like erotically charged inner-universes, is the menu. As the photos sailed by me in a cinematically projected installation, I travelled into these people and places the way I travelled into Charlotte’s nymphomania. I realized that I can actually travel into these people and these places because they are soft the way radiation is soft.
Is this the female gaze?
If there is such a thing and we actually know about it because it’s actually emerging through art and life imitating each other in front of us and all turbulently inside of us like bucking Unicorns rebelling against Terry Richardson, then I can only say: this is a good thing. I am reminded of one of the world’s hippest ever muses, Lou Andreas Salome, when she casually told us in 1914 while her gaze was fixed on Freud, Nietzsche and Rilke all at once to the point of possibly making her the quiet vulva-godmother of modern civilization –
“The liberated woman feminizes the world and brings men to discover and mine the feminine sides of themselves, which psychologically run as deep as their masculinity”. It could be that we are finally catching on.
Stay tuned for regular contributions of life imitating art by our Pop Talks columnist Caia Hagel.