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>> Crossing borders with artcouture
>> Comics at Louis Vuitton
>> Art of the runway at Issey Miyake' s
>> Fashion's muse: Claudia Skoda
>> Bootlegging brands with Olaf Nicolai

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Living Style:
Olaf Nicolai's conceptional works on fashion



Fashion, brands, and designer labels provide the raw material for Olaf Nicolai's objects and conceptual works, which investigate the changing ways in which individuality and society become culturally interlocked. Harald Fricke spoke to the Berlin-based artist about bootleg Prada copies, the aura of running shoes, and the "subtle differences" between art and fashion. For Nicolai, a paradoxical question lies at the heart of an ever-present socio-design: "Is it possible to manufacture a positive form of alienation?"


Olaf Nicolai: Still life - A Sampler, Detail, 2000


Courtesy Galerie EIGEN + ART Leipzig/Berlin

©Olaf Nicolai

The couple lives in the Villa Savoye, built by Le Corbusier in 1930 in the Parisian suburb of Poissy. She's wearing a silk scarf by Mila Schoen and a long, sleeveless dress by Martin Margiela with staggered arm holes; he's sporting a woolen shirt by Bless, grey shorts by Six Eight Seven Six, and Adidas jogging shoes. The bed was designed by Michael Marriot; the silk covers by Nicole Fahri. In the background, music by Benjamin Britten is playing, and scenes from Gerard Damiano's porno classic Deep Throat can be seen on the TV. No, this isn't something out of Bret Easton Ellis' bad-boy book Glamorama - it's part of Olaf Nicolai's text piece Stilleben [translator's note: a play on words combining Still Life and Living Style] from 2000, in which the artist combined various examples of "rooms," "people," and "objects" and printed them on double-page spreads calibrated to Pantone's gorgeous color spectrum. In Ellis' novel, descriptions of this kind are usually followed by scenes of violent horror; Nicolai, on the other hand, leaves it all up to the viewer's imagination. But it's clear that they're both of the same mind: "The better you look, the more you see," as Ellis put it.


Olaf Nicolai: Nach der Natur I, 1997,
Deutsche Bank Collection
©VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2000,



Olaf Nicolai: 1994, Präparat/Instrument, 1993
Deutsche Bank Collection.
VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2004 ,

Now take a good, hard look, throw away all your preconceptions, and analyze precisely what you see. For Nicolai, whose sophisticated images of plants attracted the attention of the art world in the 1990s, the subtle differences existing in the world of design, fashion, and consumerism on the whole have become the material for artistic investigation. Catherine David showed his lushly verdant lava rocks at documenta X in 1997; in 1999, he was commissioned by the Federal Garden Show in Magdeburg, where he developed Smell, a perfume designed especially for trees and advertised in lifestyle magazines at the time. Ever since his Stilleben project, the artist, who was born in 1962 in Karl Marx Stadt in East Germany, has increasingly been working with elements from the world of fashion; for Nicolai, its patterns, labels, and designer brands constitute an expression of today's "socio-design." Note, however, that we're talking about expensive name brands, chic labels, and exquisite tailoring here: Nicolai's investigations, objects, and environments are dedicated to the lifestyles of people in the art world.



Olaf Nicolai: Big Sneaker (The Nineties), 2001,
C ourtesy Galerie EIGEN + ART Leipzig/Berlin
©Olaf Nicolai


One of his works is the inflatable sculpture Big Sneaker (The Nineties), which was on show in two one-man exhibitions in the Gallery for Contemporary Art in Leipzig and the Migros Museum in Zurich in 2001. Conceived as a kind of jungle gym for kids, the space looked like it had been transformed into an event playground with the sporting goods firm Nike ubiquitous in the form of an oversized jogging shoe. While younger visitors were free to knock themselves out on the thirty foot-long, ten foot-high sculpture, Nicolai printed an excerpt from an essay by Zadie Smith on the room's walls - a fictional dialogue in which the British author describes desires and longings revolving around a paradoxical hope of becoming satisfied at last through consumerism.

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