This weekend I picked up two discarded newspapers on the tube. The first was the FT magazine and the second was The Daily, the paper produced by H&M during London Fashion Week.; two very different publications but both featuring individuals who describe themselves or who can be described as walking works of art.
The FT magazine featured an interview with Aarne Bielefeldt. Not a name I was familiar with but certainly a face I won’t forget. Aarne is the proud wearer of a three foot beard and is the current freestyle beard champion (who knew?!). Famous for styling his facial fuzz into the Octobeard, Aarne describes himself as an artist, his beard the subject. Lovingly pruning it and positioning its eight curling prongs with hairspray and a hairdryer, leaving him looking like a cross between the cursed Davy Jones in Pirates of the Caribbean and a Dan Hillier print.
Aarne may seem an unlikely brand ambassador but his excessive use of hairspray could be an opportunity for a savvy styling brand. Not only is he a regular at the world beard championships but he also appeared in the US TV show Whisker Wars presenting an unusual but apt product placement opportunity. It certainly wouldn’t be the first time a brand has found an unlikely partner in a performance artist. Gillette sponsored Philip Levine’s exhibition Headism in 2011. Phillip uses his shaven head as a canvass for all manner of weird and wonderful accoutrements and how else would he prepare said canvass but with a Gillette razor of course.
The Daily’s street style section on the other hand was filled with individuals who during fashion week entertain the paps with their theatrical styles. People who are not just observant of fashion trends but create an outfit that transcends style and assumes a role: the woman in floor length pastel fur and jeweled turban playing the Tarot reader, the young man in pinstriped suit and fur coat playing the Wolf of Wall Street and one woman in full PVC playing the Living Doll.
We have becoe fascinated with this kind of artistry or role playing. Who didn’t tune in to Channel Fours Secret of the Living Dolls with a mixture of horror and intrigue as grown men made themselves over in plastic suits to assume the form of Amazonian women not out of place in a Robert Crumb Cartoon? But whilst statement is the extreme living dolls and Harajuku style has become part of main stream culture with artist like Gwen Stefani heroing the trend and brands like Irregular Choice epitomizing bubble gum, my little pony chic. And of course who could forget the most famous performance artist of all, Lady Gaga, whose fusion of style, music and exhibitionism came to a logical head with her most recent album Artpop, the cover of which was designed by legendary pop artist Jeff Koons- well naturally.
For the exhibitionist, making an exhibition of yourself seems the natural thing to do with increasing numbers of young artists provoking shock and discussion with their own unique forms of performance art. Casey Jenkins Castings from my Womb was the video shared in December to cries of “Ewww Vaginal Knitting” from the tabloids. And if knitting from your nether regions wasn’t enough to raise a few eyebrows gay student Clayton Pettet is likely to raise the roof with his performance “Art Stole My Virginity” where he will lose his virginity at a central London venue to a room full of “art critics.”
But whilst the tabloids are aghast with these art forms, is it really all that shocking? Given our collective fascination with other people’s bits and pieces the human form is perhaps the perfect canvass for artistic expression. Programmes like Bodyshockers are designed for the mainstream to satiate our voyeurism and serve to prove that the rise of walking works of art is providing a necessary outlet for a public need. In a world where you can watch coitus as art and a woman digest colored milk and then regurgitate it onto canvas we are becoming unshockable and are therefore always looking for something new to break through our indifference.
So where do the brands fit in to vaginal knitting? Whilst I doubt Femfresh are banging down Casey Jenkins door and Tampax certainly wouldn’t get a look in (literally!) as people use their bodies to spread their own messages brands will look to spread theirs too. Advertisers have already claimed the thighs of Japanese women so how long before Durex are sponsoring Clayton Pettet? A controversial signing but certainly a coverage driver if ever there was one!
Daisy Sheppard is an account manager in the sports practice at Hill + Knowlton Strategies.