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Vir­gil Abloh, Ta­ka­shi Mu­ra­ka­mi

by BEATRICE ZAM­PO­NI

“Wor­king wi­th Vir­gil, I wan­ted to build a new and stron­ger brid­ge bet­ween art and the ge­ne­ral pu­blic, bet­ween fa­shion and sub­cul­tu­re. My de­si­re was for ar­tists to be able to look back in 20 years’ ti­me and feel that any­thing is pos­si­ble. I ac­cep­ted the re­spon­si­bi­li­ty of kno­wing that how I li­ve and work to­day will con­di­tion the dep­th and bread­th of the crea­ti­ve choi­ces ma­de by fu­tu­re ge­ne­ra­tions of ar­tists. We could say I’m so­wing the seeds for them.”

“In­ter­pre­ting con­tem­po­ra­ry so­cie­ty is a cen­tral part of my re­sear­ch. Ta­ka­shi and I are ex­tre­me­ly aware of the era we’re li­ving in, and we’re con­stan­tly try­ing to trans­la­te it in­to our work. This is what brought us to­ge­ther.” Na­med by “Ti­me” magazine as among the world’s mo­st in­fluen­tial peo­ple, Vir­gil Abloh and Ta­ka­shi Mu­ra­ka­mi share a de­vi­li­sh abi­li­ty to mer­ge ca­te­go­ries that are nor­mal­ly re­gar­ded as di­stinct, if not op­po­sing. And in doing so they in­ter­pret and tran­sform the con­tem­po­ra­ry. A 38-year-old Ame­ri­can wi­th Gha­na­ian ori­gins, Abloh has de­grees in en­gi­nee­ring and ar­chi­tec­tu­re. Pe­rhaps it’s this con­tra­st wi­th the fa­shion world that has gi­ven him the un­com­mon skill to tu­ne in­to the wan­ts and de­si­res of dif­fe­rent au­dien­ces. Crea­ti­ve di­rec­tor of the rap­per Ka­nye We­st, a DJ and the foun­der of the Off-Whi­te la­bel, Abloh is a “he­rald of im­me­dia­te cool” (as An­ge­lo Flac­ca­ven­to de­scri­bed him on the­se pa­ges in the May is­sue). At the sa­me ti­me, he is al­so art di­rec­tor of Louis Vuit­ton’s men­swear and the crea­tor of a li­ne of fur­ni­tu­re for Ikea de­di­ca­ted to the mil­len­nials, due out in sto­res in 2019.

Mu­ch has been said about Ta­ka­shi Mu­ra­ka­mi. The 56-year-old is Ja­pan’s be­st-kno­wn ar­ti­st, a mi­xer of hi­gh and low cul­tu­re, Ea­st and We­st, tra­di­tion and man­ga. He has com­bi­ned the fac­to­ry con­cept roo­ted in Ja­pa­ne­se craf­tsman­ship wi­th the idea of Wa­rhol and Hol­ly­wood mo­vie pro­duc­tion sy­stems. This has led him to mer­ge art and the mar­ket-pla­ce, sel­ling sculp­tu­res and pain­tings wor­th mil­lions of dol­lars along­si­de mass-pro­du­ced pro­duc­ts su­ch as T-shirts and key rings. Abloh and Mu­ra­ka­mi are long-stan­ding friends. For years they ha­ve viewed ea­ch other’s work wi­th ad­mi­ra­tion whi­le mu­tual­ly in­fluen­cing ea­ch other. They de­ci­ded to work to­ge­ther on the crea­tion of a se­ries of ex­hi­bi­tions in the gal­le­ries of Lar­ry Ga­go­sian. Af­ter star­ting in London wi­th the show “Fu­tu­re Hi­sto­ry” in Fe­brua­ry, the cy­cle lan­ded in Pa­ris du­ring the sum­mer wi­th the ti­tle “Tech­ni­co­lor 2”, and con­clu­ded a few days ago wi­th “Ame­ri­ca Too” at the Ga­go­sian gal­le­ry in Be­ver­ly Hills. Their aim – as they ex­plain in this dual in­ter­view wi­th “Vo­gue Ita­lia” – was to hi­ghlight the nu­me­rous com­mu­ni­ca­ting ves­sels bet­ween their ec­cen­tric lan­gua­ges.

You bo­th work wi­th lar­ge teams, li­ke in a Re­nais­san­ce work­shop. How im­por­tant is this col­la­bo­ra­ti­ve aspect?

Ta­ka­shi Mu­ra­ka­mi. I’ve al­ways felt that the fi­gu­re of the lo­ne ar­ti­st wa­sn’t for me, whe­reas the idea of the ate­lier see­med far mo­re con­ge­nial. So I put the idea in­to prac­ti­ce and I cal­led my work­shop Kai­kai Ki­ki, whi­ch means ec­cen­tric and won­der­ful. The­se words we­re tra­di­tio­nal­ly used to re­fer to the ar­ti­st Ka­no Ei­to­ku from the Ka­no school, whi­ch was an ate­lier spe­cia­li­sed in de­co­ra­ti­ve art foun­ded be­fo­re the Edo pe­riod. Ho­we­ver, this col­la­bo­ra­ti­ve sy­stem wa­sn’t com­mon in con­tem­po­ra­ry or Ja­pa­ne­se art at the ti­me of my de­but. I had to build it up and fight to esta­bli­sh it. It might not la­st for 300 years li­ke the Ka­no school, but I ho­pe it con­ti­nues for at lea­st 100 years li­ke Di­sney!

Vir­gil Abloh. Our shared prac­ti­ce is clo­se­ly bound to what we produce. Big teams are ab­so­lu­te­ly vi­tal if you want to achie­ve cer­tain re­sul­ts when you’re wor­king on lar­ger sca­les, bo­th in terms of phy­si­cal si­ze and pro­duc­ti­ve quan­ti­ties. Our col­la­bo­ra­tion is ba­sed on the to­tal in­clu­sion of our re­la­ti­ve teams wor­king as one.

You bo­th use re­co­gni­sa­ble sym­bols and icons that then be­co­me your un­mi­sta­ka­ble hall­marks…

V.A. In my ca­se eve­ry­thing starts from Marcel Du­champ and the new ex­pres­si­ve pos­si­bi­li­ties he ga­ve us wi­th his rea­dy-ma­des. I trans­fer­red his ar­ti­stic lan­gua­ge in­to to­day’s world, choo­sing for exam­ple to use pe­de­strian-cros­sing stri­pes as a sym­bol. I adop­ted so­me­thing tri­vial, ubi­qui­tous and rea­dy to use, and th­rou­gh its re­pe­ti­tion I tur­ned it in­to a mea­ning­ful part of my work.

T.M. I star­ted de­pic­ting my cha­rac­ters to de­scri­be how Ja­pan fo­cu­sed on crea­ting the­se char­ming-di­stur­bing dolls af­ter World War II. It’s a ve­ry com­plex world that re­pre­sen­ts one of our stron­ge­st cul­tu­ral ec­cen­tri­ci­ties, and that’s why I wan­ted to turn its pro­ta­go­nists in­to icons.

Abloh, in your lan­gua­ge you use a lot of let­te­ring and quo­te marks. Is the­re a Da­dai­st in­cli­na­tion in this choi­ce?

V.A. The use of let­te­ring and quo­te marks al­lo­ws me to be fi­gu­ra­ti­ve and li­te­ral at the sa­me ti­me. It helps me to re­con­tex­tua­li­se ob­jec­ts and con­cep­ts, let­ting me de­ve­lop a con­stan­tly new di­men­sion whe­re I can crea­te.

In your work you of­ten re­veal part of the crea­ti­ve pro­cess. Why?

V.A. It of­fers me the chan­ce to hu­ma­ni­se what I’m doing and bring peo­ple clo­ser. I’m fa­sci­na­ted by the idea that a hu­man con­nec­tion can be trig­ge­red th­rou­gh ina­ni­ma­te de­vi­ces.

In 2002, Mu­ra­ka­mi star­ted a col­la­bo­ra­tion wi­th Louis Vuit­ton that to­tal­ly re­vo­lu­tio­ni­sed the tra­di­tio­nal brand’s image. Marc Ja­cobs – the then crea­ti­ve di­rec­tor – said: “This ex­pe­rien­ce has been a mo­nu­men­tal mar­ria­ge bet­ween art and bu­si­ness.” What do you re­call? T.M. Ju­st as Sting was an En­glish­man in New York, Marc Ja­cobs was an Ame­ri­can in Pa­ris, and he was try­ing to as­sert his US iden­ti­ty in Fran­ce. This com­pul­sion ga­ve ri­se to his fir­st col­la­bo­ra­tion wi­th Ste­phen Sprou­se and his graf­fi­ti. The ex­pe­ri­ment bet­ween art and fa­shion was so suc­ces­sful that it spa­w­ned other col­la­bo­ra­tions in­clu­ding mi­ne. It was clear­ly an epic tran­si­tion. No­wa­days col­la­bo­ra­tions are an eve­ry­day thing, but we should al­ways re­mem­ber who the pio­neers we­re.

V.A. It was a com­ple­te­ly re­vo­lu­tio­na­ry ex­pe­ri­ment – mi­xing art and fa­shion, and doing it wi­thout any com­pro­mi­ses. It was al­so a cru­cial mo­ment for the de­ve­lo­p­ment of my crea­ti­vi­ty. Mu­ra­ka­mi’s abi­li­ty to de­con­struct and his ae­sthe­tic and con­cep­tual free­dom ha­ve been to­tal­ly in­spi­ring for me.

To­day Abloh is the ar­ti­stic di­rec­tor of Louis Vuit­ton’s men­swear li­ne. What do you think about this coin­ci­den­ce?

T.M. I think his po­si­tion isn’t ve­ry dif­fe­rent to Marc’s when he was at Louis Vuit­ton. Wi­th an Afro-Ame­ri­can at the helm of a Pa­ri­sian fa­shion hou­se, Vir­gil’s work is mar­king an epo­ch too. I ex­pect him to pu­sh his iden­ti­ty mo­re and mo­re in this sen­se. It’s a chan­ge that in­di­ca­tes fa­shion’s po­si­ti­ve in­sta­bi­li­ty, em­pha­si­sing how it con­ti­nues to ab­sorb dif­fe­rent sti­mu­li to evol­ve in a way that’s of­ten even mo­re free than art.

Among the works you’ve pre­sen­ted, the­re’s one in whi­ch a self-por­trait of Ber­ni­ni is su­pe­rim­po­sed wi­th Mr. DOB (the fir­st cha­rac­ter crea­ted by Mu­ra­ka­mi in­spi­red by man­ga co­mics). Is the­re a par­ti­cu­lar re­la­tion­ship wi­th this Ita­lian ar­chi­tect?

V.A. Ber­ni­ni was a mul­ti­di­sci­pli­na­ry ar­ti­st. He fi­ts in wi­th my per­so­nal fee­ling that con­tem­po­ra­ry so­cie­ty is ex­pe­rien­cing a sort of Re­nais­san­ce. So I wan­ted to ma­ke a con­nec­tion bet­ween the Re­nais­san­ce and what Ta­ka­shi and I are doing to­day.

In the va­rious ex­hi­bi­tions, the mo­st por­trayed work in mul­ti­ple ver­sions of co­lours, ma­te­rials and sup­ports is the sim­ple in­ter­sec­tion of your mo­st un­mi­sta­ka­ble sym­bols: Abloh’s four ar­ro­ws and Mu­ra­ka­mi’s smi­ling flo­wer, a sort of icon com­po­sed of icons…

T.M. It’s an em­ble­ma­tic ge­stu­re. We real­ly wan­ted to ren­der our lan­gua­ges in­di­vi­si­ble. I think that va­lua­ble art can on­ly be va­lued years af­ter its crea­tion, not im­me­dia­te­ly af­ter­wards. When fu­tu­re au­dien­ces look at our work, I’d li­ke them to think of the end of an era when art was still shel­te­red in a sanc­tua­ry, and when we we­re wor­king cea­se­les­sly to bring it ou­tsi­de.•

(Trad. An­to­ny Bo­w­den)

ori­gi­nal text pa­ge 60

Søl­ve Sund­sbø

by ALESSIA GLA­VIA­NO

“It star­ted wi­th skiing - be­cau­se we skied a lot, I still do. Skiing is qui­te in­te­re­sting for photography be­cau­se you

start wi­th a blank can­vas. You ha­ve a whi­te back­ground and then you fill it. I al­so went to con­certs whe­re it is real­ly black and then you fill it.”

Eve­ry pho­to­gra­pher, eve­ry ar­ti­st, has ta­ken their own pa­th whi­ch has led them to be­co­me who they are to­day. For Søl­ve Sund­sbø, it all star­ted wi­th emp­ty spa­ces to be fil­led. A mat­ter of black, and whi­te. Then co­lors ca­me.

“Slo­w­ly but su­re­ly I fell in­to fa­shion and rea­li­zed what a beau­ti­ful and ex­hi­li­ra­ting world it is to work in.” Will the thir­st for mo­re rea­li­stic ae­sthe­tics de­pri­ve fa­shion photography of its il­lu­so­ry po­wer? Do we still be­lie­ve that an ar­ti­st needs to be dam­ned in or­der to produce great art? And how has the bu­si­ness of fa­shion photography chan­ged in the #MeToo era? Vo­gue Ita­lia spo­ke to ce­le­bra­ted fa­shion pho­to­gra­pher and film­ma­ker Søl­ve Sund­sbø about the sta­te of fa­shion photography to­day. Wi­th his uni­que vi­sion de­fi­ned by cut­ting-ed­ge tech­no­lo­gy and bold chal­len­ges to the two-di­men­sio­nal na­tu­re of photography, Sund­sbø is the per­fect exam­ple of a fa­shion pho­to­gra­pher who ma­nu­fac­tu­res dreams. His pho­to­gra­phs and vi­deos re­ject any ri­gid ad­he­ren­ce to rea­li­sm, ope­ning a ga­teway to an en­chan­ting di­men­sion whe­re ima­gi­na­tion and rea­li­ty are fu­sed in a ca­ta­ly­st for in­fi­ni­te out­co­mes. As part of this year’s Pho­to Vo­gue Fe­sti­val, Sund­sbø will al­so be the su­b­ject of a solo ex­hi­bi­tion ti­tled “Beyond the Still Image”, ho­sted in the evo­ca­ti­ve gal­le­ries of Milan’s Palazzo Rea­le. In re­cent years, and par­ti­cu­lar­ly wi­th the ad­vent of so­cial me­dia, the­re ha­ve been in­crea­sing claims that fa­shion photography pro­mo­tes unat­tai­na­ble stan­dards of beau­ty. The de­si­re to see au­then­tic bo­dies is un­doub­ted­ly an im­por­tant and po­si­ti­ve shift but I al­so think it would be a mi­sta­ke if su­ch a year­ning for “tru­th” en­ded up cen­so­ring fa­shion photography. Af­ter all, ac­cor­ding to Ir­ving Penn, fa­shion photography is about “sel­ling dreams, not clo­thes”. What do you think about this cur­rent ten­den­cy in the field? When peo­ple say, “Now the di­rec­tion is this,” they’re as­su­ming that that’s al­ways going to be the di­rec­tion from then on. But it’s not true. The fa­shion photography world chan­ges eve­ry six mon­ths, or even quic­ker, so it’s in per­pe­tual mo­tion. The­re will al­ways be a reac­tion and a coun­ter-reac­tion. If the trend now is “eve­ry­thing mu­st be real”, in th­ree years’ ti­me you can gua­ran­tee the­re’ll be so­me­thing hy­per-gla­mo­rous and re­tou­ched again, be­cau­se that’s how it works. I ta­ke pho­tos of eve­ry­day li­fe all the ti­me, so I’m real­ly com­for­ta­ble in the world of the su­per real, but I don’t ne­ces­sa­ri­ly choo­se to do that when I work. I’ve got four kids, I get up in the mor­ning, they go to school, they co­me ho­me and we feed them - you know, real li­fe. So when I go to work I want to do so­me­thing el­se. I don’t need to esca­pe gla­mour and go in­to rea­li­ty. I want to go from a re­la­ti­ve­ly nor­mal li­fe and in­to a world that still has a bit mo­re ima­gi­na­tion. Do you think that to­day we’re fi­nal­ly over­co­ming the mi­scon­cep­tion that in or­der to be a great ar­ti­st you ha­ve to be dam­ned or lead an ex­tre­me li­fes­ty­le? For a lot of peo­ple, I think all the­se ru­les about how you’re sup­po­sed to be­ha­ve as an ar­ti­st are ju­st an ex­cu­se. Espe­cial­ly in the wa­ke of the #MeToo mo­ve­ment, I think it’s ti­me to que­stion the be­ha­viour of peo­ple who on­ly act the way they do be­cau­se tho­se around them or the cul­tu­re at lar­ge ha­ve been wil­ling to ex­cu­se their be­ha­viour. I un­der­stand that so­me ar­tists are mo­re in­ten­se than others, and I re­spect tho­se who need to li­ve in a cer­tain way to crea­te. But the­re’s no ru­le that says you ha­ve to li­ve in a fantasy world to crea­te a fantasy world. A good exam­ple is Roald Da­hl, who would sit in his room eve­ry day wi­th his pen­cil and crea­te ma­gi­cal uni­ver­ses out of no­thing. I’m not tel­ling anyo­ne how to li­ve. But it’s ti­me to stop apo­lo­gi­sing for hor­ri­ble be­ha­viour un­der the gui­se of “it’s ju­st the way it is”. I re­mem­ber what the bu­si­ness was li­ke back in the ’90s when I was li­ving in New York wor­king as a fa­shion pho­to­gra­pher’s as­si­stant. I don’t think the­re are ex­cu­ses for trea­ting peo­ple bad­ly ei­ther psy­cho­lo­gi­cal­ly or phy­si­cal­ly, but the­se things we­re al­ways hap­pe­ning. Eve­ryo­ne can do so­me­thing wrong. But it be­co­mes a pro­blem when it’s a sy­stem or so­meo­ne’s way of wor­king that re­pea­ted­ly goes wrong. We’re all hu­man but the­re’s a ve­ry firm li­mit for me. When I fir­st mo­ved to London one of my be­st friends told me, “If you want to be a good pho­to­gra­pher, you ha­ve to be the be­st ver­sion of your­self.” The li­fes­ty­le of a pho­to­gra­pher can be qui­te dy­sfunc­tio­nal, be­cau­se when you’re in the studio, you’re the king or queen, and it’s pos­si­ble to get lo­st in that po­wer, in par­ti­cu­lar if you don’t ha­ve so­me other part of your li­fe to coun­ter­ba­lan­ce tho­se dy­na­mics. That un­chec­ked po­wer and re­spon­si­bi­li­ty can lead to pro­blems. That’s why it’s im­por­tant for me to ha­ve so­me­thing ou­tsi­de fa­shion photography – so­me­thing per­so­nal – that is even mo­re va­lua­ble, that cen­ters me. Is na­tu­re your big­ge­st in­spi­ra­tion? Yes, but al­so mu­sic, books and scien­ce. My friends and fa­mi­ly say I’m qui­te ner­dy. But all the­se things sti­mu­la­te me and I’m in­cre­di­bly cu­rious to the point of being an­noy­ing. If so­meo­ne is ha­ving a con­ver­sa­tion I al­ways want to know what they’re tal­king about. So­me peo­ple are shy, I’m cu­rious. And I think that cu­rio­si­ty al­so in­forms my work be­cau­se I want to ex­plo­re. I re­mem­ber Da­vid LaC­ha­pel­le say­ing, “If you want rea­li­ty, ta­ke the bus!” That’s right. And Si­mon Fox­ton said, “If you want rea­li­ty, look out the win­dow.”

In the ex­hi­bi­tion at Palazzo Rea­le in Milan, the­re will be stills, vi­deos and si­te-spe­ci­fic in­stal­la­tions that show your cut­ting-ed­ge use of tech­no­lo­gy, whi­ch pro­pels fa­shion photography beyond the li­mi­ts of two-di­men­sio­nal ima­ge­ry. What is the main dif­fe­ren­ce for you bet­ween still and mo­ving ima­ges? I think the streng­th of the still image co­mes from the fact that it’s a mo­ment in ti­me whe­re you ha­ve to fill in what hap­pe­ned be­fo­re and af­ter. You’re in a mind­set whe­re you say, “I’m going to gi­ve you a cha­rac­ter and a mo­ment, and you ha­ve to guess the re­st.” That’s why photography is su­ch an in­cre­di­ble tool to com­mu­ni­ca­te wi­th, be­cau­se it lea­ves a lot to your ima­gi­na­tion. Trans­fer­ring this idea to mo­ving ima­ges is al­so a chal­len­ge. Wi­th mo­ving ima­ges you ha­ve to do the sa­me thing but in may­be 60 se­conds. It’s li­ke seeing a sce­ne from a film and gues­sing the re­st of the mo­vie. The­re’s al­so the idea that your art, photography or film doe­sn’t ne­ces­sa­ri­ly ha­ve to fol­low a li­near nar­ra­ti­ve. I think it al­so has to do wi­th the fact that I don’t li­ke being told what to do. And I don’t li­ke tel­ling peo­ple what they should think ei­ther. If you gi­ve that space to the per­son loo­king at the film or pic­tu­re, the­re’s a re­spect for the viewer whi­ch I li­ke. As a fa­shion pho­to­gra­pher, you need a good sty­li­st, good hair and good ma­ke-up. On your se­ts, how mu­ch do you in­ter­fe­re wi­th the choi­ces of the­se vi­tal team mem­bers? It de­pends on the job. But, you know, the be­st pho­to­gra­phers ha­ve the be­st hair and ma­ke-up. Look at Steven Mei­sel’s re­la­tion­ship wi­th Guido Pa­lau and Pat McG­ra­th. It’s the be­st ma­ke-up and hair­sty­ling com­bi­ned wi­th the be­st pho­to­gra­pher. It’s in­cre­di­ble. I tend to co­me back and work wi­th the sa­me groups of peo­ple be­cau­se the­re’s a mu­tual lan­gua­ge and re­spect. I can gui­de them but it’s not my streng­th. If I think of Mert and Mar­cus, Mert could pro­ba­bly al­so do the ma­ke-up and hair. He’s in­cre­di­ble li­ke that, but I can’t do it. Whi­ch pho­to­gra­phers ha­ve in­spi­red you? Penn and Ave­don are al­ways the two whom eve­ryo­ne looks at. It’s li­ke peo­ple who ma­ke mu­sic are in­fluen­ced by the great com­po­sers. Ob­viou­sly Nick Knight has been ve­ry im­por­tant for me be­cau­se I wor­ked for him. When I was star­ting to look at fa­shion photography, Nick was lea­ding the way in chan­ging fa­shion photography. What is beau­ty for you? Beau­ty is over­ra­ted. Beau­ty for me is cha­ri­sma and kind­ness. When we meet so­meo­ne cha­ri­sma­tic, they can ma­ke the who­le world di­sap­pear. It’s an in­cre­di­ble gift, and Ave­don had it. I on­ly met him for a cou­ple of mi­nu­tes, but it was as if the who­le world di­sap­pea­red and left ju­st him and me. It’s li­ke that wi­th beau­ty too. I can’t de­fi­ne it, but when you see it you re­co­gni­se it. • ori­gi­nal text pa­ge 226

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