An email conversation between Tenant of Culture and Jade Jamean Lees during install week.
Jade Jamean Lees: There is something quite mysterious about your identity due to your artistic practice being named Tenant of Culture; can I ask why do you go by that name?
Tenant of Culture: The name Tenant of Culture is a term I borrowed from the writing of Michel de Certeau who uses it to describe the position of the artist as a cultural post-producer rather then autonomous creator. I chose it because that concept resonates with my practice but also as a wink to the luxury fashion brand names that often refer to some kind of space such as ‘maison’, ‘studio’, ‘house of’. The term tenant implies being able to rent within larger pre-existing structures, which I thought was a good metaphor for an interdisciplinary practice. Besides this conceptual reasoning I also want the structure of Tenant of Culture to remain open to the idea of becoming a collective at some point, or be passed on to someone else, like that happens with big fashion houses. So far it’s just me.
JJL: Your use of fictional trends often seem to reflect current trends such as your piece including the ‘kim k’ style ombré wig, can you please talk about these trends in relation to your fictional trend Pastoral Nostalgia?
ToC: I have a fashion back ground and being ‘trendy’ in the fashion world is a big compliment. Within contemporary art however it is an insult. I am fascinated by ‘trend’ not being intellectually verifiable as it’s more about mood and atmosphere and collectivity. This is why I find it interesting to reference contemporary aesthetics. The ombré wig is in direct relationship with the pastoral nostalgia trend. The ombré dye technique creates a hairstyle that looks intentionally neglected. The pastoral nostalgia trend does the same thing, employing a rustic, rural aesthetic in a complex and technologically advanced landscape. Romanticizing a time where milk came in bottles and bread in baskets, where all clothes were made from natural materials, where we worked simple ‘real’ jobs, had dirt on our hands and lived in harmony with nature. Pastoral nostalgia is actually the first lifestyle ‘trend’ based on nostalgia and was practiced already during Greek antiquity. The title of the show refers to this, Works and Days is a poem written by Hesiod and is the oldest document of pastoral nostalgia, dating 700 BC. It is so interesting to see this trend surfacing again in contemporary fashion and lifestyle in the form of shapeless linen garments, aprons and sea grass baskets. At the same time it’s problematic as it’s a form of appropriation and class tourism. During the Victorian era it was popular for ladies of the bourgeoisie to be portrayed holding a shepherds crook as a fashion accessory and of course there’s Marie Antoinette playing milkmaid in her Humeau de la Reine. These are all forms of pastoral nostalgia, the longing for a life you think is less complex than you’re own, the romantization of the working classes. In a way the ombré wig does the same, aestheticizing the hairstyles of the women who for whatever reason can’t keep up with their roots growing back.
JJL: Is this trend a comment on consumers becoming sheep?
ToC: I never thought of it that way but I guess it does! Being a sheep implies apathy and mindlessly following the herd. Trend is kind of the same thing, following the crowd. But if a sheep doesn’t follow the herd it dies, so trend and adapting to the group can be seen as a survival mechanism.
JJL: The use of figures and non-figures within your work give the space an uncanny atmosphere where the works seem to hold an empty human presence. I feel this uncanniness is often experienced when looking at mannequins in clothing stores. Can you talk about your use and non-use of mannequins in your work?
ToC: The phenomenon of fashion, according the Walter Benjamin, is the dialectical switching station between woman and corpse. It has the power to transform libidinal desire for something organic into something in organic. The mannequins I use are hollow casts of real bodies, the empty shell is an important thing in my work. I use a lot of bags, shells and covers. I’m interested in something being made purely to store or protect something else. Which is the function of garments ands bags. This holds relationships to something quintessentially female; the ability to care, to carry, to function as a vessel. By exploring this in relationship to fashion I want to unearth the hierarchical value system behind the prejudices against fashion and superficiality, trend etc. It is about hospitality, and leaving an open space to be ‘filled in’. This is also an integral part of Tenant of Culture, and the idea of not being autonomous but rather influenced and shaped by what is around you. Trend is the same thing, it is anti-autonomous in a way, it is being influenced by the collective energy and being open en impressionable. The idea of the autonomous loner who works ex nihilo is such a cliché and also quite territorial. In the sense of; this aesthetic is ‘mine ‘ this idea is ‘mine ‘. Tenant of Culture functions more from that place of collectivity and moving with the masses. Taking a closer look at why a certain trend surfaces rather then moving against it.
JJL: the pieces you create seem to be layers of materials, layers of fabrics, shoes, bags, even your more poetic piece on the PR talking of different materials, objects and textural terms - what is it about the quantity of materials and is this in relation to our throw away society and maybe Ornamental Survivalism?
ToC: Because I use mainly recycled materials, with often signs of previous lives, it becomes quite a patchwork of references. My interventions are often quite minimal, I stitch some things together, put some clay on it, press it between plastic. I let the existing garments do the work for me. Recycling is always a form of resistance, against the new, against throwaway society, against the purity. But for me it is more than anything an obsession. I love going trough charity shops, looking for strange gems. I spend hours on eBay looking trough amateur object photography and odd product descriptions. The text on the PR is a summary of product descriptions I found online that I felt described the materiality of the two trends that are the focal point of the show. They are a play on the difficulty of describing something physical in a textual way and a wink to the exaggerated language of trend reports.
Ornamental Survivalism is about wearing survivalist gear in the city. I see it a lot in London and find it such a hilarious contradiction. There is no need for survival gear in an urban environment, so it is completely frivolous and ornamental, yet it looks hyper functional. It shows that there is no difference in wearing linens and carrying a reed baskets or pairing a suit with a Northface trekking backpack. It’s all just trend.