Columns on fashion, culture and ideas

Art & Culture / An Intellectual Fashion

Matthew Stone

Every two weeks, contributors from all fields of contemporary creativity and thought answer questions about the status of fashion in culture, and choose the pictures to illustrate their words

© Matthew Stone
© Matthew Stone

Matthew Stone’s multifaceted work addresses culture as a whole...

Matthew Stone’s multifaceted work addresses culture as a whole. First and foremost an artist, he notoriously attracted more than 4000 viewers for his WOWOW performance at Tate Britain, in 2008. Since then, his work has been featured in numerous venues, most recently, the 2012 Marrakech Biennial, and in magazines including Dazed & Confused and Vogue Japan. A long-time collaborator of Gareth Pugh, Stone is also an esteemed DJ, creating soundtracks for designers including Adam Kimmel, Rick Owens and Miuccia Prada. Finally – and that might be the link between all the different sides of his creativity – Matthew Stone unites his vision under "New Optimism", a philosophical way of thinking that invites everyone to relate to the world in a renewed fashion.

How would you connect fashion to elegance?
I guess I haven’t thought much about the word elegance. I feel like the opposite of elegance is something that is embarrassing. I’m only really embarrassed by other people when they are rude or cruel. But one thing that’s specific about fashion is that it often relates to a certain degree of cruelty, often via very basic celebrations of hierarchical power. But that’s also part of what makes it exciting.

What is the role of history and art history in your conception of fashion?
I follow a sort of Beuysian trajectory in the sense that everything is or can become art. I see fashion and art as being different conversations, but see that the process of creation can be similar. The conversations have their own separate yet interrelated histories. There’s a lot of art that is shallow and lazy, and a lot of activity within fashion that exhibits the mindfulness and creative commitment I would seek in great art. They have a lot to say to say about and to each other. In fashion, there’s a great liberty to explore aesthetics, which to some people seems irrelevant to contemporary art.

"I follow a sort of Beuysian trajectory in the sense that everything is or can become art"

Would you describe fashion as a language and a discourse, as Barthes did it?
Fashion is an infinite and interconnected network of languages. Whether or not it’s the slight angle a baseball cap is tilted in the street, there’s a very intricate and conscious discourse in there. Trends can be studied as an evolving conversation: they’re memes. In my mind, the patterns of behaviour in fashion, can be translated to identify similar cultural movement occurring in other contexts.

The word "intellectual" was coined in a time of great political distress. Does fashion have a political role? And in which way?
Politics is inherent in every action. However, it seems very difficult to self-consciously pair fashion with a political stance that I’d be proud to maintain. The structure of the fashion industry is immediately politically compromised by the nature of commerce. With a commercial objective and client in mind, it is difficult to speak the truth. Advertising, in all its forms exists to lie about products to increase sales. I think this is part of the cause of political apathy. Most feel compromised by their lifestyles and know that on some level espousing idealist political philosophy would be or at least seem hypocritical. There is a feeling that if you can’t constantly embody the intensity of your altruistic intentions, you might as well give up. If you claim to try, people will call you out as a fraud rather than commend your partial efforts. I believe that our individual corruption is a symptom of a failing system, not a description of human nature. Perhaps we must first be open hypocrites, but start to do whatever we can, whenever we can.

How would you relate the concept of "fashion" to the one of "style"?
Fashion is an industry, whereas style is the elusive metaphysical element that the industry claims to represent. You don’t need to have money to have style. This is the truth that fashion advertising seeks to suppress.

"Only looking for art in museums is pointless. If you want to enjoy your life, you have to look for art everywhere."

What does fashion have to do with intellectuality ?
Every action is ultimately creative. An artist is someone who’s constantly aware of that ongoing process. There are many different ways of thinking. I like fashion that is intuitive and visceral. The problem actually occurs when people working in fashion feel the need to justify fashion in an academic context or in relation to what they understand as conceptual art. The nature of aesthetics and visual phenomena in relation to the body is an endless topic. Often people self-consciously exclaim, "There is a concept, there is a concept!", and they kill it.

Your work often features nudity. How do you stand towards nudity in fashion and art ?
I think that if there were clothes they would be distracting. A lot of my audience – particularly younger people – automatically process photographs to identify brands, and cultural micro-trends. I want them to be thinking about something else. What’s more, if there are clothes, what should these clothes be? It’s perhaps a dodgy concept, but I want my work to project towards a sense of timelessness. A timelessness that has as much to do with the future as it does the past. I used to worry about whether my works were sexual or not. Obviously people are nude when they have sex... So for a long time, I felt that it didn’t have anything to do with my work. I now think that it was a naive position, and I now feel comfortable saying that they’re charged with sexual energy. I realised that what I was rejecting, was the idea that they were charged with violent sexual energy. I want to provide powerful images of  coexistence, compromise, collaboration. I didn’t want to continue to illustrate the power struggles evident in advertising and pornography. Marina Abramovic has talked about creating a new eroticism. Somehow, that’s what they are about. A personal eroticism toward the sacred love of friendship. I am always trying to confuse the physical reality of seperateness and the spiritual idea of interconnection.

Your range of activities includes art, fashion, DJing, curating, that all stand in relation to culture at large. What is the relation between fashion and culture at large?
Fashion is culture. It’s obviously multi-layered, but part of the reason why it’s so popular, more popular than art, is that more people can directly buy into it and therefore be involved in a way that feels creative. But its a democratic aspect that is appealing because of its undemocratic nature. Luxury and exclusivity titillate. I think its worth drawing a distinction between pop artists and artists whose work exists within a popular culture context. A pop artist uses art, perhaps in a pop culture context perhaps not, to comment on the nature of popular culture. Whereas I see that popular culture can be considered as art in its own right. We get distracted by thinking, "This is art", "This is fashion". It’s reductive. Realistically, art is an intensifier of human experience, that allows us to transcend the mundane. Only looking for art in museums is pointless. If you want to enjoy your life, you have to look for art everywhere.

In two weeks Donatien will be interviewing the poet and cultural critic Wayne Koestenbaum.

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