Balenciaga’s spring 2023 fashion show, which took place this October in a darkened convention center on the outskirts of Paris, was a mess. To match the collection’s aggressive, almost militaristic solemnity—a multi-pocket combat jacket, graffiti hoodies, a dress made entirely from the brand’s redesigned leather City bags—Spanish artist Santiago Sierra pulled over 9,700 cubic feet of damp soil into the space, creating pits. which models are moving slowly, their clothes are collecting mud at every step. A special fragrance reminiscent of decomposition, developed by Norwegian fragrance researcher and painter Sissel Tolaas, lingered in the post-apocalyptic swamp. According to Demna, Balenciaga’s artistic director, the set was “a metaphor for searching for truth.”
It’s sand that has emerged as the perfect symbol of escape in recent years, especially after the arrival of the novel coronavirus and the travel restrictions that followed: an acronym for a vacation spot where we can all bury our heads a little. The most memorable was Lina Lapelytė’s opera “Sun and Sea”, featuring beach-goers who, after winning first prize at the 2019 Venice Biennale, toured the world during the pandemic and performed Vaiva Grainytė’s libretto on the climate crisis. They continue to relax as the world warms.
German actor Lars Eidinger in Thomas Ostermeier’s 2022 production of “Hamlet” at the Brooklyn Academy of Music. Credit… Photo courtesy of Arno Declair, BAM
But if sand is a Beckettian distraction, the Balenciaga show mirrored the storm that erupted in our own backyard. “With dirt and mud, you’re trying to bring back a certain kind of reality to the white cube land of the big bourgeoisie,” says Thomas Ostermeier, 54, German experimental theater director. “You create tension between sterile spaces and this very sensual material.” In a brutal reinterpretation of William Shakespeare’s “Hamlet,” which made its American debut as part of the Brooklyn Academy of Music’s Next Wave Festival earlier this fall, the Danish royal family goes crazy at a funeral designed by Ostermeier’s German collaborator Jan Pappelbaum. acres of mud. As the story progresses and the characters unravel, the wet earth begins to represent their decaying mental states: Players rub it in their faces and stuff them in each other’s mouths. “The smaller the world, the more relevant Shakespeare becomes,” says Ostermeier.
In the play “Crowd” by Austrian-French choreographer Gisèle Vienne, which also competed at BAM in October, a troupe of dancers writhes on a dirt-covered stage to the accompaniment of techno music. As the name suggests, the performance takes place at a crowded party where the entertainers use their bodies to convey feelings of isolation and enthusiasm, in a story written by Vienne and American author Dennis Cooper. As the actors lose themselves to ’90s EDM tracks, rubbing against each other and on the dirty floor, the audience feels like they’ve stepped into a party at the end of the world – but the image lingers. not the rager itself, but the wasteland left behind.
Similarly, for his contribution to this year’s Venice Biennale “Earthly Paradise”, Delcy Morelos created earthen fences that enclose the viewer’s body like the walls of a labyrinth – a quietly annoying plunge into what he calls the “private moisture of the earth.” Colombian artist, who will perform his next installation at Dia Chelsea in the fall of 2023, and American artist Walter De Maria himself seemed to be interested in the legacy of “The New York Earth Room” (1977), made from around 280,000 pounds. A reflection on our complex relationship with dirt and nature (the piece is still preserved in SoHo by the Dia Art Foundation). Of course, as an analogy for our present moment – or, to quote Nine Inch Nails frontman Trent Reznor, for our “empire of scum” – the mud is not subtle: The world is in an obsolete state. Even the way we talk about things like dirty money, internet trolls is dirty. These artists and creators seem to say that the most obvious way out of the mud is not to double down on the hallmarks of civilized prosperity, but to return to nature by embracing collective catharsis and the occasional anarchic release. If these are to be believed, we must adhere to a kind of sociological composting – breaking things down so that they can be stronger, getting into the mud together, even if just to enjoy the purification that follows. According to Ostermeier, his scene is not just a cemetery: “It’s also a playground.”