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Su Ling Gyr’s multimedia installation Fashion Bone employs photography, video, performance and drawing in an investigation into the manipulation of identity through fashion. The exhibition is being held at Pantocrator Gallery in Shanghai until the end of December.
Su Ling Gyr is an artist of Chinese, English, Swiss and German origin, having lived in London and now in Berlin and Stockholm. Su Ling Gyr’s multicultural background deeply informs her work as she explores transient notions of identity and, in particular, the ways in which the individual seeks to manipulate and craft self-identity through the adornment — or veiling — of fashion and luxury. Indeed, this curiosity about the relationship between the body, fashion and identity is an ongoing theme that runs through her body of work.
According to Su Ling Gyr, the project entitled Fashion Bone is about ‘how we use fashion to dress ‘our bare bones’, how we use it to empower and to classify but also to blend in and to follow. Fashion Bone is also about individuality and luxury vs. mass production and poverty. ‘The frivolous and the ugly. Life and death.’ In a sense, the title itself pits these dichotomous concepts against each other; fashion is exterior, bone is interior, fashion is an accessory, bone provides the very structure of our being. However, the relationship between what is outside and what is inside of the body proves to be far more complex than such simple dichotomies.
Fashion Bone delves into the individual’s fashioning, using fashion, luxury and dress to adorn and meticulously craft the external image and examines the link between the process of crafting that image with the notion of identity that individuals so resolutely seek to clothe and cover, to make beautiful and desirable; it suggests that it is that underlying identity that provides the structure upon which all adornment hangs.
Su Ling Gyr also explores the notion of fashion and identity on a communal or societal level as she reveals its dual nature, which is acutely stark in the Chinese context. Shanghai in particular is a global hot spot where identity, fashion and luxury collide in spectacular fashion, often in ironic ways. As Su Ling Gyr herself recalls, her Chinese grandfather fled China amidst the upheaval of revolution; now, Shanghai is the burgeoning centre of China’s addiction to all things luxe and high-end. Here in a forest of towering skyscrapers, money has become inextricably linked to identity, and ‘being fashionable’ is becoming the embodiment of success.
But even as urban socialites in Shanghai and Beijing invest in ever more luxurious ways of framing the body, in factories across China, particularly in the south, factory workers — often female — bodily invest in creating the luxury goods that make their way into cities across the world. Through her video installation, Su Ling Gyr takes her place at the other end of the production chain, filming herself in the process of sewing newspaper pleats in a factory that compares the workings of an artist to that of the factory worker in order to visualise the multi-layered nature of luxury and self-fashioning.
Su Ling Gyr’s works are neither easy nor obvious, yet they are deeply provoking. In the artist’s own words: ‘Just like in mathematics, pure art is not always easy to digest. Nor to understand…Every pure origin can send you on a journey but you don’t always know where it’s heading or if you can find your way back.’
Watch a trailer for Su Ling Gyr’s Fashion Bone: