January usually sees the dismantling of lavish holiday windows on Fifth Avenue, a dissipation of arresting tableaux that engaged pedestrians. But the eminent Paris department store Le Printemps refused to wait until next year to showcase another extravagant display, hosting fashion icon’s Daphne Guinness’s second foray into performance art housed in their windows.
Guinness previously performed a short piece last May in the windows of Barney’s, wherein she changed into a plumage-embellished Alexander McQueen gown for the Met’s Costume Gala. The performance, while short, attracted a large audience of modern-day flâneurs bearing witness to Guinness dressing and undressing in a very deliberate, choreographed manner with the aid of an attendant in a black sequined jumpsuit.
Her sophomore performance, done in collaboration with SHOWstudio contributor and fashion photographer Nick Knight, exploits innovative technologies that we contend with in modern times. For this work, Guinness is projected as a hologram rather than be present as a physical being. Accompanying her will be imagery submitted by users on SHOWstudio’s website, adding a worldwide collaborative aspect to the performance.
The sartorial simulacral “sculptures” of Guinness don pieces from the beer heiress’s collection of couture, from Paco Rabanne to Maison Martin Margiela. The eerie artificial clones call to mind the work of multimedia artist Tony Oursler and the visual display for the touring Jean Paul Gaultier exhibition.
The project holds the potential to erupt into a discourse on the nature of performance art and its constitution. Is this nothing more than an elaborate advertising campaign, engendered by people so immersed in commercial institutions that the work renders itself as an advocation of commodity fetishism? Or will it be something more meaningful, more impactful?
I am reminded of the lost icon Klaus Nomi, and the brand Fiorucci once was. The ultra-hip clothing store utilized Nomi, and a menagerie of youth culture, in the 1980s as animated displays, dancing in the windows, engaging passersby. The work was not entirely commercial. In a sense, it was a cultural expression of New Wave style and accessible postmodernism as a whole. This was iconic of the times, just as Guinness’s performance might be.
The site of store windows is not new for more conventional artists. The supreme Karen Finley rather infamously performed in a JC Penney window before being arrested by San Francisco police, and a group of artists at this year’s PuSh Festival in Vancouver performed in storefront windows.
Perhaps Guinness is feeding into this tradition, creating a performance piece that’s caught somewhere between the public and private sphere.
The anticipation of Guinness’s new work was compounded by the announcement that her luxe apartment was put on the market, probably to avoid anymore million-dollar lawsuits because she has a habit of flooding her neighbors’ apartments. Strange that she’s compelled to occupy a public space to act out her intimate processes, when her art-filled home was seemingly ignored to some degree. It makes some sense, I suppose; she’s more mannequin than human (a high compliment if I ever gave one) and this extremely visible performance seems somehow strangely more intimate for her. Maybe Guinness would be better off living in a window display, a la Edina and Patsy in the infamously campy British sitcom Absolutely Fabulous.
I should also mention that a new fashion film by Nick Knight captures Daphne Guinness as a “Dark Knight” in Gareth Pugh, reinterpreting an ancient Chinese legend. The video includes a soundtrack sung by Guinness herself, and it is also presented in the windows of Le Printemps.
The Daphne Guinness window display at Le Printemps (64 Boulevard Haussmann, 9th Arrondissement, Paris) continues until March 14.
As arts communities around the world experience a time of challenge and change, accessible, independent reporting on these developments is more important than ever.
Please consider supporting our journalism, and help keep our independent reporting free and accessible to all.