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Maripol, Clare Stephenson and Zoe Williams – Spring / Summer 2015

Dundee Contemporary Arts until June 21st.
Four stars

After a succession of impressively immersive shows that have felt at times like being in assorted night-club chill-out rooms, the DCA comes blinking into the (neon) light for this triple-headed glamour chase spear-headed by the French Polaroid auteur, designer, stylist to art's original stars and sometime chanteuse, Maripol. In a collection that looks part boutique, part 1980s in-crowd affair which has only just been in full swing before everyone rushed off to the latest joint, Maripol's verite images are the stuff of a thousand private views, and her work really shouldn't be witnessed unless set to a sound-track of uber-cool loft-friendly avant-disco.

As it is, Maripol's own musical contribution to the show, a song recorded with Leonard Lasry called 'Love Each Other', can only be heard on headphones pitched next to a glass case containing 'EACH x OTHER' (2015), a calendar box etched with a series of epigrams that mark the seasons of desire. While commercial enough to be able to grace Eurovision if required, the song is nothing compared to the case it nestles next to containing assorted vinyl discs by Madonna, the street-smart icon who Maripol styled with assorted crucifixes, chains and an abundance of multi-coloured wrist bands of the ilk that would go on to keep Accessorize in business ever after.

By this time we've already sashayed past a clothes rail of Maripol's other creations, including shirts patterned with collaged reproductions of her Polaroid portraits, a leather jacket hung from the ceiling and a pair of equally Polaroided up high heels, caged, as with other accoutrements, in cake shop style domed display cases.

Sartorially speaking, then, Maripol was to New York's loft-dwelling Downtown No Wave scene what Vivienne Westwood was to London's punky, spunky King's Road, providing the Look to a mould-breaking DIY culture even as she led it somewhere more attention-seekingly aspirational. This is clear from the array of coffee table books showcasing her back pages laid out as self-mythologising reference points. And yes, that retro-future op-art image of Blondie on the cover of Debbie Harry and co's third album was set up by her.

It is the pictures on the wall, however, that speak volumes about how that culture panned out. While half the fun is spotting the famous faces – oh, look, there's Debbie, Madge and Grace, who together are actually three very different graces of female pop cool; and there's Keith, Jean Michel and Andy, inevitable, ubiquitous Andy. And of course, in among the superstars there are self-portraits too, and in a way Maripol's entire back catalogue is one big jumbled-up remodelling of herself and others

Yet for all the celebrity teeth and smiles on display, it's the less familiar visages in the simple slide-show in the gallery's back corner room that prove even more intriguingly enticing. Here in the shadows and out of the spotlight are all those all-dressed-up one-night-stands, striking a blink-and-you'll-miss-it pose during fleetingly blurry moments in crowded rooms where they're immortalised in after-hours snapshots that ooze fresh stains of colour as disposable as Xerox.

In what now looks like an archaic pre-selfie 1980s age, this was the sign of the times, a zeitgeisty trash aesthetic that ran parallel with and defined early editions of ID magazine, originally a non-glossy zine which suggested you too could join the fashion parade. Such a deceptively throwaway approach is confirmed before you even step into Maripol's world, where outside the gallery the sparkly letters headlining the show change hue as you walk past en route to the next big thing.

In this context, the latter comes in the form of Stephenson and Williams' contributions to the show. Because rather than being added to the bill as hangers on, Stephenson's permanently drying out bikinis and giant cocktails set alongside but separate from Williams' synched-up video pieces awash with slo-mo dancers, perfume bottles and scarlet-painted nails are as crucial as they are complimentary. While it may appear as if the young set have been ushered in to do their own growing up in public, both artists are far from ingénues at their coming out ball. Stephenson and Williams are already the next new wave, bringing substance as well as style to a place where the art of parties is brought so vividly to life.
 
The List, April 2015

ends

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