by Joanna Chaffin
Aggression, rebellion, and breaking down barriers have all been notions intertwined in the work of performance art. Live action performance in art has stood to provoke an audience, make them cringe, scared and generally elicit a strong emotional reaction. From Marina Abromovic to Chris Burden to Yoko Ono, performance is something that tends to stick with us because of it’s oftentimes a ‘shock to the system’ due to the medium itself. With his latest runway collection, entitled Vicious, this past September in Paris for the Spring/Summer 2014 season, Rick Owens debuted his own shock to the fashion system through a performative medium. Amongst the many other fashion shows taking place across the world for Fashion Weeks, so often waif-like models stare down the lenses of the countless photographers taking their picture. However, Owens’ show used forty dancers from four American Sorrorities—The Washington Divas, Soul Steppers, The Momentums and The Zetas. The dancers in question were not by any means reminiscent of a typical elegance, grace or politeness, but rather from Stepping Teams who donned their best scowling faces as they took to the floor. Just as performance artists broke free from the confines of the canvas, Owens’ steppers pushed, knocked, stomped on and punched through the confines of the stagnant assembly line that is often seen in fashion.
The performance of the Steppers, clad in their architecturally cut, neutral coloured designs by Owens brought new energy to the runway and clothing, rejecting the orthodox in fashion, dance, and even body representation. The massive jolt of energy that this show brought is undoubtedly attributed to the explosive performance and movement of the women donning Owens’ designs. Not only are they in the viewer’s face with the way in which they move their bodies, but their physical appearance is something that in no way can be ignored. Using primarily African American women that do not have size 0 model bodies—but rather a more democratic representation of shape—embraces a new perspective, one that is all too often left in the shadows in the fashion world and one that begs for more representation. Owens’ show was not simply energetic but aggressively and rebelliously so. In many respects, this show represented the antithesis of the values that so many other fashion houses uphold and represent to the public season after season.
Owens’ statement is one that is loud, angry and cannot be easily ignored—he is creating beauty, energy and a strong emotional response from something that isn’t always looked upon as beautiful in the fashion mainstream. He seems to be pushing industry’s buttons by saying “I want to take you somewhere where you didn’t think you would be going and make you feel uncomfortable.” And isn’t that so similar to the values of performance artists—not only making a statement but making one so controversial and rebellious that it could easily send shockwaves through its communities (i.e Chris Burden nailing himself in crucifix formation to a Volkswagen Beetle car or Marina Abromovic carving a Pentagram into her stomach).
Owens studied Fine Art before becoming an acclaimed international fashion designer, so his tendencies to push boundaries across mediums and push his audiences in terms of how they are to understand his work could very likely come from the a lens of an artist who doesn’t limit himself to or respond accordingly to the norms of a given medium. Owens bends and fuses many ideas and concepts into something entirely new and powerful in itself. Whether viewing at it from a performative or aesthetic standpoint or whether it makes you feel empowered, shocked, or even a bit frightened—it is clear that Vicious is a hybrid of its own proportions.