Readings + runways: On the alchemy, astrology + abject humor at New York’s Bridget Donahue during Fashion Week

, 25 September 2017

September marks the de facto beginning of the New York fall art season, which coincidentally runs in tandem with the New York edition of Fashion Week, running September 3 to 17. Energized by both fashion and art, the city accelerates its already turbulent velocity, poaching exuberant cultural markets with the allure of textiles and libidinal anarchy. It’s almost impossible to not wonder whether the corner bodega could transform from a familiar space of confectionary goods to an art gallery or potential catwalk. Chinatown’s Bridget Donahue Gallery towed this generative topology, hosting two events that inaugurated and informally transitioned this season’s programming accordingly.

Lou Dallas SS18. Courtesy Raffaella Hanley + Bridget Donahue, New York.

The week’s events at the space began with Lou Dallas’ SS18 fashion presentation. The brainchild of New York native and RISD graduate Raffaella Hanley, the collection intelligently coupled fantasy and alchemy, resulting in a collection that continued and effortlessly transcended Hanley’s vision of “evoking baroque grandeur of the past and youthful splendor of present day New York.” Aptly named Sod Walker, each of the coruscant 22 looks featured hand-dyed, dead stock fabrics — a staple of Hanley’s practice, which harkens back to her roots as a trained painter — that conjured as much bold elegance as it did pastoral eroticism. In contrast to the fast-fashion trends of the contemporary scene, where the cooption of street-style dominates the visual and production vocabulary of many young designers, Hanley’s ready-to-wear assemblages featuring natural, vibrant hues elicit an assuring counterbalance. Artisanal detail and imaginative world-making, imbued with playful allegories that are made exultant by Hanley’s collaboration with artist Will Sheldon and accessories designer Anna Pierce, renders Sod Walker a compelling venture in an art form resisting atomization in favor of interdisciplinary practices.

The gallery also hosted ‘Ready-to-read,’ an evening of readings that provided a much-needed cortisone-reducing pharmakon to the urgency of fashion week and exhibition openings in the form of abject humour, astrological epiphanies, ontological analysis of politically-mediated trends, and murder-mystery. Organized by Los Angeles-based writer-artist Fiona Duncan, Ready-to-read is the New York edition of her monthly literature series Hard to Read, which takes place at the Standard Hotel in Los Angeles. Editor Christopher Glazek, began the evening’s processions with excerpts from author Gary Indiana’s sardonic 1999 book, Three-Month Fever, about the life of party boy-turned-media sensation Andrew Cunanan — notoriously known for the murder of influential fashion designer Gianni Versace. Dark, witty and paired with Glazek’s voracious delivery, the story probed a persistent psychoanalytic gaze within the room that at once aggressively interrogated our ardent willingness to participate in the nebulous administration of desire.

Ser Serpas, ‘a chance in acquisition’ (2017). Courtesy the artist.

Following Glazek were artist-writer-model Ser Brandon-Castro Serpas and writer-model Alicia Novella Vasquez, each reading original poetry touching on radical feminist activism and unhinged sexuality. A dose of levity, channeled through astrological devotionals was provided through the lecture-cum-motivational-speaking of New York-based poet and astrologer Ariana Reines. Recounting a chance email correspondence with an anonymous ‘fan’ that led to an affirming belief in the creative purpose, Reines detailed feelings of inadequacy against the pressures of New York. The artist began with a slideshow featuring an image of a rabbi — to whom she shared a dubious yet uncanny resemblance — sent to her by the anonymous correspondent. According to Reines, the string of connections henceforth precipitated an existential meditation, which forced and necessitated both a personal reconciliation with her creative purpose and cosmological attunement.

Marjon Carlos, journalist and founding Arts & Culture editor at Saint Heron, then delivered a discursive analysis from a text she originally composed for Vogue magazine in response to the Women’s March, which took place in Washington, DC this past January. Acutely investigating modes of resistance through clothing and hairstyles adorned by prominent black women activists, from the likes of Rosa Parks, Angela Davis and Beyoncé, Carlos’ brilliant piece placed the aesthetic choices of these revolutionaries in close proximity to a much larger conversation about radical performance and antagonist choreographies. For Carlos, the civil rights movement has been characterized by a distinct, contextual affect on the part of women activists to actively place their bodies in oppositional coordinates from normative categorization; in effect, style becomes a viable and often overlooked tool for affirming identity and providing situational syllabus for acts of civil disobedience.  

Julien Ceccaldi, Human Furniture, pub. September 2017. Courtesy the artist.

Artist and comic-book writer Julien Ceccaldi formally debuted his new, self-published comic, Human Furniture on the occasion of Ready-to-read. The artist’s first since 2014’s Less than Dust, Human Furniture chronicles a hapless protagonist, Francis, navigating ostentatious environs bereft of self-awareness. Speaking with Ceccaldi, he describes the work as “a short story about trying to come to terms with unrequited love and promiscuity (in this case, Francis’ love for a chiseled, popular secondary character, Simon).” The comic, for Ceccaldi, “raises a question about whether the protagonist acts debauched because of a failed romance, or if the romance failed because [Francis] and the object of his desire are libertines.” Coincidentally enough, the narrative spaces and situational themes Ceccaldi constructs bear striking resemblance to the fashion umwelt: visibility politics, guest-list rejections, ostensible clout connections, and sex are central to the social geographies of the storyline. More or less, each attendee of Ready-to-read could relate to the comic — if not due to fashion week or art openings, then certainly by virtue of their position in a rigid, hierarchical art-world. Regardless, in the words of Fiona Duncan, “happy people came.”**

Julien Ceccaldi’s Human Furniture, self-published on September, 2017, is available at Los Angeles’ Ooga Booga, New York’s McNally Jackson, Montreal’s Librairie Drawn & Quarterly, and Eckhaus Latta’s Los Angeles retail store.