Art is art. Fashion is fashion. But what happens when the two practices meet? Can they really meet without hierarchies and pecking-orders arising? Kajsa G Eriksson (b. 1965) is the first doctoral student in Sweden to investigate fashion design from the point of view of an artistic praxis.
It is in this union of two seemingly disparate traditions that the political, aesthetic and ethical dimensions are staged and it is in this performance that the representative regime that has governed the various artistic genres can be overthrown in favour of an aesthetic regime. This is, quite simply, a small-scale aesthetic revolution. Because if we look more closely at the work Ridån The Curtain that Kajsa Eriksson has produced for the Faculty of Education in Gothenburg we rapidly begin to realize that we are not looking at a curtain but something else. As a construction it undertakes a difficult balancing act between light and heavy materials. The textile parts of the curtain consist of printed cotton twill and hand-painted Thai silk-anything but typical curtain fabrics. The silk bubbles that stick out here and there on the curtain are fluffy and they rather make one think of the impermanence of items of clothing rather than the durability of a public work of art. The folds of the curtain are sewn as straight tubes like a range of archaic columns or cylinders in the futuristic spirit of Fernand Leger. The folds are not natural folds but we are confronted by images of folds. The folds have become surface but they still function as folds in that they are still hiding their constructed state.
So is this a pretend curtain? A picture of a curtain and not a curtain in itself? Or is it, simply, the wings of a stage for performing the play of knowledge? I should like to go so far, this time in agreement with the artist, and claim that it is not a curtain but an enlarged item of clothing that functions as a curtain. An item of clothing that has been tailored in accordance with the rules and in which the back becomes, in due course, the front. The silk bubbles that look like a silk handkerchief in a top pocket or an inside-out trouser pocket, capture the dual movement of the item of clothing as both covering and exposing.
If one takes one’s point of departure in the function of clothing, one rapidly realizes that one can put one’s arms through the holes that are created by the ”constructed” folds. The curtain then becomes like a large cape with holes for the arms. But the cape remains static and thus of no use since one cannot actually wear it. The item of clothing then functions like a voluntary prison. it encloses the person, holding one back as long as one chooses to remain in its power. In this case the item of clothing has become a sort of phantom of the body, a phantom which is repeated in the rest of the room. When people hang up their coats they will unconsciously have been interacting with the work, letting letting the human shell imitate the work of art elsewhere in the room. In this way a formal ”clothing dialogue” is created in the room.
If one forgets the clothing function and, instead, considers the form of the curtain one can see that, to an extent, the item of clothing imitates the form of the curtain while also taking in styles of dress from other periods like the stiff skirts of the rococo. The idea of the fold now returns in the excess of fabric that forces its way out between the constructed folds. The silk bubbles look like crinolines, pouches, chrysalises, malignant tumours, wizened balloons. Excess is everywhere, even in the colours that have been poured over the fabric. Silk taffeta is also a fabric often used for wedding dresses; a symbol of extravagance. But here the wedding dress has been dragged through the dirt and more or less used as a floor cloth. Creased as they are, the silk bubbles look like fading flowers. A vanitas motif caught in textile form. A reminder that all public works of art are ultimately doomed; when the efforts of the conservator and other preservative actions can no longer ensure the survival of the work of art.
The Curtain also refers to the idea of the body. The organic forms that stick out between the red slits from which the bubbles are blown up might also represent, or at least allude to enlarged female genitalia. The folds of the fabric capture the folds of flesh. The red edges of the curtain opening that look like two visual handles that one could use to physically draw the fabric apart also form a crack that describes the female genitalia’s welcoming yet excluding mechanisms. The crack in the curtain gives rise to expectations but also to passages for players who can appear or disappear be hind the rigid boundary that the curtain draws between fiction and reality.
The Curtain is a seemingly simple construction but its simplicity encloses it within its self in a way that creates confusion and wild associations. In this way it acts perfectly as a projective surface for all sorts of daydreams that may present themselves as we listen to a dull lecturer. In this way the Curtain becomes a mirage that transports you to another place.
One can regard Kajsa G Eriksson’s work as an upside-down world reminiscent of the medieval carnival that let the fool be king for a day. Here it is, rather, the heavy royalist fabrics that are dethroned by the lightly borne textiles of modern clothing. The festive colours of the silk fabrics remind us of mediaeval tournaments, the cloth bubbles of the French artist Jean Honore Fragonard’s sensuous crinolines. Or is it, rather, Nora in Ibsen’s Doll’sHouse whose skirt has caught on something as she makes her way out of bourgeois society? The curtain can be compared with a giant shoebox that has been buried in the ground and has now given way to the laws of nature. What comes in? What comes out? The curtain could also be a large wrap-around skirt that lets in the light depending on the movement of the cloth. It is as though Kajsa G Eriksson’s curtain has a female eroticism, the infant’s peek-a-boo and hide-and-seek games and the dramatizing gift paper wrapped round a present. Every narrative and every interpretation is possible when the imagination gains the upper hand.
The Curtain acts like a giant fiction-machine, a narrative of a narrative. Like Ilya Kabakov’s installations, one can enter the work of art and come out on the other side. One exchanges one fiction for another. The Soviet era was a realized utopia for some and hell for others. In order to escape from the fiction people were obliged to find a new fiction to believe in. This is how the French philosopher Michel Foucault described madness: the madman flees the existing rules and accepts the rules that he invents for himself. The rules establish limits for mobility but even fictions have their limits. Sometimes a work of art can destabilize the ruling fiction and offer other ones. This is the case with Kajsa G Eriksson’s Curtain which is no longer a curtain but a body without organs or contours, a work that consumes meaning at the very moment that it is created. The Curtain can be seen as a materialization of Deleuze’s desire. The philosopher Gilles Deleuze challenged the psychoanalytical understanding of desire. In his view desire is not a theatrical stage but a factory that is constantly producing new structures for desire. These machines of desire that are insatiable, multiple, organic, energy-producing and energy-consuming form part of a system in which mankind and nature produce each other. Everything is in a constant state of becoming.
This is also true of the dialectically constructed Curtain which is both open and closed, both desiring and desired, both artificial and organic. Colouristic bombastic as well as coolly minimalist, postmodernist in its mix of techniques and irreverent crossing of boundaries, as well as modernist in its monumental appearance. “It would have been most fun”, Kajsa G Eriksson claims “if one had been able to send round the work of art to different public places. If it had been possible to hang the work from curtain rails and move it around so that everyone could see it.” I can only agree with her; for what could be more entertaining and educative than a public work of art that circulated in urban space? For the moment one can enjoy Kajsa G Eriksson’s curtain inside the walls of education. The large auditorium of the Faculty of Education gives a sensation of a very enclosed room: windowless and buried beneath the ground. It is to be hoped that Curtain will let a little “light” into this cave.