joanne lee


voodoo chanel

This review was commissioned for the May 2011 issue of a-n magazine and also appears online. Voodoo Chanel was at Grey Area, Brighton between 5 - 27 March 2011.

My experience of Voodoo Chanel begins with the ‘VoodooFesto’. This text functions as the show’s manifesto-cum-press release, and appears in insistent capitals on the Grey Area website. It also recurs repeatedly on the gallery walls and is offered as a printout for people to take away. Visually, it seems to be saying something very loudly indeed, and the tone of language itself is similarly urgent; upon closer inspection, however, the message itself is unclear. With such assertions as ‘VOODOO CHANEL IS OPTIMIZING THE ORIGINAL BRAND BY CLIMBING THE SOCIAL UPGRADE WITH SELF-MADE STRATEGIES’ or ‘VOODOO CHANEL IS A COLLECTIVE WORK, THE SHIPPING IS A JPEG’ and ‘THE VALUESYSTEM IS A LADDER TO POWER AND CONSUMERISM ARE STEPS ON THIS LADDER TO STEP UP TO A MORE POWERFUL POSITION’ (sic) I can’t decide if it is parodying ridiculous corporate mission-statements, whether it is the curious poetry of pure nonsense or if, despite the mangled grammar and ludicrous sentences, it is seriously intended as a critical/political proposition. Implausibly, I begin to suspect the latter: there’s surely an activist intent apparent in ‘VOODOO CHANEL IS STEALING CHANEL FROM THE CORPORATE OFFICES IN PARIS, LONDON, NEW YORK’, though what such theft will accomplish remains vague.

There is apparently some sort of critique going on here - of the fashion system, and of a culture of global brands – and the conflation of fashion and voodoo are clearly meant to illustrate something of the commodity’s mysterious fetishism. Despite the manifesto assertion that ‘VOODOO CHANEL IS NOT A COUNTERFEIT’, many of the artefacts presented in the show are indeed cheap stand-ins for a variety of ritual objects. The poor copies of designer handbags and the vests and tote bags screen-printed with a cannibalised Chanel logo are of much the same order as the fakery manifest by the Voodoo-lite of gold painted bones, a faux-fur animal skin and the proliferation of apparently arcane symbols scribbled upon the gallery wall. Even the artists themselves are counterfeits of a sort: the fancifully named Coco Cartier and Ezili Lagerfeld turn out to be the pseudonymous alter egos of Melissa Logan and Nadine Jensen, two members of the Chicks on Speed project.

Almost everything here is borrowed from somewhere or someone else: a photograph from Leah Gordon’s series on Haitian Kanaval is reproduced in print and as a painting; the song lyric ‘I put a spell on you, and now you’re mine’ is adopted as a caption; and even Damien Hirst’s diamond encrusted skull is co-opted for a shiny poster. Perhaps the artists see such eclectic borrowing, with its concatenation of high and low, Western and non-Western cultures as exemplifying their notion of the project being ‘POST POST COLONIAL’. In actual fact it seems very much business-as-usual here, as other cultures have once again been exoticised for mere effect.

The show’s sexed-up Blue Peter-ism, in which a motley collection of selected and scavenged materials are only barely held together with electrical tape, cable ties or hastily bashed in nails, offers an adolescent take on the complexities of global capital; its cack-handed construction may be intended to look edgy and politically urgent but simply doesn’t convince. Of course the whole thing could still be an enormous joke – perhaps we are meant to laugh at punters shelling out on over-priced, unethically produced designer fashion, or to sneer at Chanel’s drift away from all that could be hip, and maybe the shallow borrowing is intended to comment upon the fashion industry’s own nefarious practices; ultimately though, the joke may be on me for attempting to take such matters seriously.