John Kelsey

Bernadette Corporation @ ICA reviewed.

28 March 2013

Bernadette Corporation, first emerged from the New York city club scene in 1994. As if by magic, on the same day as London’s Institute of Contemporary Art retrospective 2000 Wasted Years opens, actress and BC mascot, Chloë Sevigny, appears in a film appropriately titled 90s Throwback on luxury online magazine Nowness.

That’s not the first time Bernadette Corporation has colluded with the fashion scene. The Face, i-D and Dazed & Confused, have all drooled over the bitchy women’s wear label that, quite literally, rips off and rips ups brands. An Adidas t-shirt with a BC logo sown in, worn by the exhibitions poster girl, is a case in point. Ripped-up High Street jeans and models styled to resemble Pamela Anderson circa Baywatch are the next level of a similar philosophy of appropriating popular culture, as highbrow critique.

Bernadette Corporation, 2000 Wasted Years (2013). Installation view. Image courtesy of ICA. Photo by Mark Blower.
Bernadette Corporation, 2000 Wasted Years (2013). Installation view. Image courtesy of ICA. Photo by Mark Blower.

Super-slick with a glossy, black and minimal structure, the main exhibition space resembles a flagship store, complete with display boxes, runway videos and a mannequin dressed in a feminine peach pink dress. The only difference is this one is positioned with one hand on hip, and a ‘what are you looking at?’ attitude. Designed by Gideon Ponte and Magnet, veteran set designers responsible for films like American Psycho (another Sevigny hit), it mocks both the BC mantra and the event itself; the prosaic punch line being, ‘this is an exhibition-as-marketing exercise’.

John Kelsey and Bernadette Van-Huy, two core members of Bernadette Corporation, say as much, making the point that the ‘retrospective’ actually contains nothing but newly made work, and as such, is more of a re-launch for them, which is in no way subtly calculated. Across the corridor that makes up an upper level of the main gallery, the viewer looks onto light boxes common of advertising, packed with information about BC. Upstairs we’re also treated to poster after poster (from 1993-2011) in what resembles a typical museum’s educational programme of display, geared towards BC’s history.

It’s an ironic take on the idea of a retrospective exploiting a two-dimensional display of narrative history, while  juxtaposed with images explaining BC’s absurdist strategy as an advertising agency, fashion label and art collective. It’s even a DIY toolkit for anyone starting an art movement but the fact remains that there’s little actual art to be seen. As an installation, there’s no doubt this display is part of BC’s objective, to break down the boundaries between high and low culture, while giving us an overview of their practice in a cost-effective way. It’s educative, informative and there’s much contemporary collectives like Peckham’s Lucky PDF are clearly influenced by. There’s an open acceptance of BC’s debt, as ‘children of Warhol’ but then little here to clearly distinguish their interpretation of Andy’s Factory from anyone else.

There are, of course, pieces that stand out. Art documentary Get Rid of Yourself (2002), in which Sevigny is arguably at her best addressing anti-globalisation, is re-edited into a blazing movie-style trailer. More recent work, at the intersection of where the body beautiful interacts with digital culture, is left to one video where the teen phenomenon of ‘happy slaps’ is taken from YouTube and shown repeatedly over two screens in a display cabinet. Here, like everywhere else in the exhibition, it’s really cool but not for long.**

Bernadette Corporation’s 2000 Wasted Years is on at the at the ICA, London and running from Wednesday, March 27 to Sunday, June 9, 2013.

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