International art nomad, Geneva-based Sylvie Fleury works without a studio, her artistic practice driven by invitation and assembled in the gallery. Fleury ambiguously appropriates the stuff of the fashionable lifestyle – paintings, carpets, shoes, hemlines; incorporating her passion for muscle cars and her space programme in installation, sound work, and video. Mantras from fashion magazines erupt from lipstick-coloured space rockets, hot rodders pull quotes from Vogue out of their trunks – “Dare to be Terrific.”
SF– I made a video as part of a series called Current Issues, which was a project using fashion magazines of the whole month – say September 1996. I would get all the magazines I could find for the month and have someone film over my shoulder me flipping through them, just the images from the magazine. It’s so easy for people who don’t want to turn the pages, zapping through this person turning the pages for you. The latest issue of Current Issues has little breaks, after one minute you see a nice weird landscape of suburban Geneva where a muscle car roars up and brakes right in front of the camera and these guys, these (kind of) mechanics who are amongst my friends in Geneva – because I’m very much into the car culture in Switzerland – come out of the car, open the trunk and pull out a big panel that might say, ‘Miniskirts are Back’. They look kind of awkward and silly with these panels – these macho men who didn’t quite know that they would be sandwiched in between fashion magazines – so I sort of tricked them. But they were so happy to have their cars shown all around the world, and I made a kind of fake copy with not too many fashion magazines for them.
Hot Heels, Fleury’s current installation at the Auckland Art Gallery, assembles pieces from the more or less recent past, and places them in conversation with one another. The title wall painting, based on the logo for the not quite eponymous toy cars suggests the polyvalent glamour of her work; a boy’s toy, a flaming stilletto, a foxy decal. The artist’s early signature shopping installations, clusters of high-fashion purchases in their impeccable bags and wrinkle-soothing tissue paper, have been received variously as a celebration of consumption or a critique of retail excess. The artist’s response is typically a refusal to close down the possibilities of her work by espousing a particular polemic or single art-historical reference. Her dealings with the cosmetic, the superficial and fleeting cut against modernist preoccupation with depth and the idea that there is some single thing that her work is really about.
A partition wrapped in lush red synthetic fur dominates the Auckland space – a fuzzy monolith. ‘The wall in the gallery that was added was disturbing, so I just wrapped it up with the fake fur because I wanted it to disappear, in a way.’ Fleury continues, ‘Fake fur is a material predominant in my work… it has this seductive quality. I don’t know if you noticed, but people immediately want to touch it. That’s not something people would do with normal pieces in a museum, quite the opposite. As soon as you’re in an art gallery you don’t want to touch anything. That’s what I like about it. The first time I used fake fur, even dogs loved it – it was really a success.’
The synthetic aroma of the fur is an ideal accompaniment to the other elements of the installation: ‘The flame wall was also part of giving another dimension to the architecture, because when you look from afar, having paintings in this area attracts you to the space, makes it a real space as opposed to a hidden corner.’ Custom-car style flames are airbrushed onto the wall in pink, blue and red on a foundation beige ground. The flames are plump and menacing, like some scary silicone-plumped rorschach inkblot escaped from one of Fleury’s beloved B-Movies.
Across from the flames exercise videos play on a huddle of monitors. The various tapes display the major typologies of the fitness form. Cindy(?) sweatless with a desert background working her abs, Cindy in a loft with artworks in the background toning her thighs, Cindy (strangest of all) working out on what seems to be a large artwork on the floor of the loft. Her outfits are tasteful, her makeup flawless. This and another video of cliff-top steppers by the Californian ocean (lighthouse in the background) form the high end of the selection. The other videos have more daytime-drama production values and anonymous personnel. The televisions are splayed across the floor at different angles, a contortion of cords leads to a stack of video players sending different and conflicting exercise messages -seaside/studio/desert/abs/buns/thighs/back/front… one lolls as far as the flaming corner. The garish makeup colours of the flames congeal nicely with the studio-bound B-list aerobicisers who glow with something; if not necessarily naturally. The conjunction of the aerobics piece and the flame painting is new to this installation, and offers a menu of customisation – body, mind and decor.
On the other side of the fur wall, the Gucci Satellite video sits on a white plinth, awkwardly singular by comparison to the tangle next door. The monitor shows a pair of feet clad in a sleek pair of stilleto Gucci mules – the shoe of the season – last year? The year before that?. A large bunch of keys swings as the driver stops and starts in an orbit so small as to be almost geosynchronous. As Fleury describes: ‘We were driving in Brooklyn. It’s this block civilisation. You get to drive one block, and at the end of the block you stop….. The car being driven was called a Plymouth Satellite. It’s a video about going forward, and stopping. There’s a lot of frustration in this – you watch and expect that something is going to happen, but nothing happens, except at some point when I hit the brake and the lunch of the friend who owns the car, the left-overs of the Japanese lunch jump out from underneath the seat and attack my feet. So that’s the main action in the whole movie.’
SB – Any tips for the year 2000?
SF – Rockets. I also like to link the rockets to the makeup world.
When I was a little girl we had this night when we could stay up much later to watch the Apollo landing on the moon. A whole new world opened up suddenly and we thought of the things people would do in the future, in space. There were articles and things – I guess I was too little to read them, but I remember people thinking of this as a major achievement in our world that was going to change history. And here we are, thirty years later – what do we use space for? Maybe to dump radioactive waste…
SB – To make our telephones work…
SF – A few satellites and stuff. It’s not developed, its stagnated. Anti-wrinkle creams, cosmetic surgery, all this stuff decayed the future, because there are few things that our consumer society desires more than looking young for as long as possible. Maybe we should all move to the South Pole.
SB – Oh no, the UV is terrible down there.
SF – Oh, that’s right – SPF 600… By 2000 we’ll be bathing in it all the time because of the Ozone.
SB – Don’t you?
SF – No, but I have this neon that says ‘Moisturising is the Answer’, so I do a lot of prevention for others, but it’s always the same story – the shoe maker has the worst shoes.
First published in the New Zealand Listener, May 22, 1999