Metahaven x Flavia Dzodan: (have you ever seen an ugly) Kaleidoscope?

In a joint series of presentations, lectures, discussions titled (have you ever seen an ugly) Kaleidoscope?, Metahaven and Flavia Dzodan examine topics at the intersection of politics, art, fashion, cinema, theory, and ethics.

A Lecture Series at Sandberg Instituut Amsterdam, Spring 2021

We can pretend that the pandemic is not happening and just submerge ourselves within these aesthetic worlds of fashion, art, politics, etc. We could cosplay normalcy, at least from the perspective of art critique or cultural production. We could design a seminar to deal with the pandemic as an epistemological crisis, as outlined by the scholars Francis Beer and Robert Hariman. Neither of these options would cover the depths of this phenomenon we are collectively experiencing. So, instead, we tentatively outline a quivering intention, a series of talks, and media sharing events.

This series was borne out of months of text-based chats where we kept each other company, discussed our creative preoccupations, shamelessly gorged on sentimentality, and eventually moved onto random Tenet gifs in lieu of meaningful commentary. All of this to say, this is not a neat and orderly series, a seminar with a beginning and an end where we impart art thoughts and truths. Instead, it is like a chat between friends who try to make sense of the chaos and begin to examine the reasons for what and how they feel what they feel. Like any ongoing chat among friends, this seminar could begin at any time and end whenever only to be picked the next time as if no time passed.

Text-based chats (WhatsApp, iMessage, etc) are both asynchronous and urgent. This seminar hopes to be both. Part research project, part theoretical exploration, we hope to instigate reflection and analysis. As such, this seminar eschews the tidiness of long term projects, the revisions, and the revisits. It is for now. It could only have happened at this moment in time. “The science of aesthetics, the science of the beautiful, did not disappear and could not disappear, because it never existed.”—Leo Tolstoy, What is Art?, 1897

It is often said that aesthetics are a passé subject at schools and academies. A legacy of postmodernist philosophy would lead us to believe in the irrelevance of concepts such as “ugly and beautiful” in art and design. However, little is said about the ties of notions of beauty and ugliness with the histories of racial, gender, class and body politics. It might seem that it is easier to sweep beauty and ugliness under the metaphorical rug rather than address how these categories were constructed to begin with. After all, Kantian aesthetic ontologies cannot be uncoupled from Kantian racial politics. Ugly or beautiful remain relevant categories in the way we reproduce discourses of categorization not just in the art school but, perhaps even more importantly, in our everyday lives.

Image shows the closing scene of Andrei Tarkovsky’s Nostalghia, in which a man sits on the ground next to a dog and a water puddle. The country house in the background has been replaced by a Guangzhoubottega replica of a Bottega Veneta Padded Cassette handbag.

Lecture 1: Ouverture of Something that Never Ended

Watch on the Research at Rietveld and Sandberg YouTube channel.

Overtures usually have tunes that are going to be heard during the opera or ballet. In this way, it prepares the audience for what is to come. In Ouverture, we look at the ethico-aesthetics of Gucci’s latest film series release slash SS21 collection. The brand’s creative director Alessandro Michele showcased “OUVERTURE,” Gucci’s new collection, through a seven-part film series co-directed with Gus Van Sant. This is the starting point for a discussion about the role of film and storytelling not just within fashion but within our different forms of self-expression. It is also a reflection on Art after Zoom; how, after full days spent behind laptops in meetings and classes, are we still supposed to take the screen seriously as a space for films?

Lecture 2: Politics of Fake and Fiction

Watch on the Research at Rietveld and Sandberg YouTube channel.

A thorough investigation of the world of “fake” fashion items and the deep problematics of the designation of “fake” when seen from a materialist/Marxist viewpoint. Vs. the Essentialism that characterizes the epistemological construction of the “Real” (vs. the Fake) fashion artifact.
Did “post truth” and “fake news,” buzzwords of 2016, really change our perception of reality? Five years later it is a truism that they did. But what about the consequences of fake for fiction? The barrage of online fantasy narratives and alternative realities has eroded the stability of truth in public life, but may we conversely propose that fake news may have undermined belief in the potential of fiction? If so, what can be said in defense of fiction?

“In the first part of her book, The Languages of Learning, Karen Gallas explores the talk of children whose cultural and linguistic backgrounds are different from those which are predominant in the school. Among these children is Jiana, an African American girl who enters first grade unfamiliar with the school practice known as ‘show and tell.’ Gallas reports that one day Jiana tells a ‘fake’ story using a genre more familiar to her, and, as both her sentences and story lengthen, the complexity and manner of her presentation greatly improve. Gallas attributes this change, in part, to her own decision to minimize her verbal and physical interventions and instead to sit at the back of the classroom and really let her students take the lead during this activity.

While Jiana is at ease with her new genre, some Caucasian, highly verbal boys are severely bored during her telling and Gallas ‘labor[s] to understand their actions’ (p. 34). As a consequence, Gallas encourages all the children in her class to learn to tell ‘fake’ stories. With the inclusion of this new genre, she provides an opportunity for those students whose experience has been constrained by traditional school discourse to experiment with forms new to them.”

to potentially cover:

—film as a genre of experience to be watched while sleeping

—Fiction as Inflation. The narrative fiction preset intends to circumvent the inflation that it has itself created.

“Screenplays, up until the mid-1990s, were expected to be about 120 pages worth of dialogue and action. Most studios now ask the writer to come closer to 95-100 pages. Their reasoning: shorter attention spans of audience due to television, video games and fast-paced lives.” (Jule Selbo, Screenplay: Building Story Through Character, Routledge, 2016, 21.)

—Fiction and “reality”
Late 2020 The Guardian:
“We don’t need fiction – the real world is strange enough.”

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