Gucci is no stranger to artistic collaborations, especially off-kilter ones with promising young creatives. Last year, Gucci's capsule collection with Trevor Andrew – better known as GucciGhost – continued to toe the line between bona fide luxury goods and back-alley bootlegs, a thread creative director Alessandro Michele still pulls on even in the house's latest Fall/Winter 2017 offerings.
Michele describes his aesthetic as "contemporary, eclectic Romanticism," and that's why it makes sense that this season, he partnered with Spanish artist Coco Capitán. Born in 1992, Capitán is an established photographer who has developed a following for her works exploring typefaces and simple, humorous messages that are open to interpretation by the viewer.
Capitán's collaboration with Gucci includes off-beat, ambiguous aphorisms like, "What are we going do do with all this future?" and "Common sense isn't all that common." Alessandro Michele even wore one of her tees to close out Gucci's F/W 2017 show, adorned with the message "I want to go back to beliving in a story." The spelling is intentional, reflecting the artist's desire to "be living in" a more ideal world.
The collection just launched on gucci.com and select Gucci stores. To pre-empt the release, Gucci took Capitán's art to several walls around the world, placing her aphorisms on murals in New York and Milan. The #gucciartwall opens up physical ways for fans of the brand and the artist to engage with the collaboration on social media.
Coco Capitán took some time out of her hectic travel schedule (she's currently in Italy) to speak to us about the collaboration, her art, and how society's growing consumption of imagery and social media has allowed her text-based work to achieve a new level of cultural relevance.
Theorist Marshall McLuhan said “the medium is the message.” How do you think that applies to your work and this collaboration?
I would turn that quote around to make it "the message is the medium." In this case, the important part was to deliver a message; the medium was circumstantial to my time and tools available. I just think that in the context of fashion, it's really easy to create images, or content in general, that are empty of meaning.
I think in this collaboration specifically, because it's text in an industry that mainly works with images, the most important thing is that you are delivering a message, almost getting rid of certain aesthetic values. Of course, writing in my style is an aesthetic decision, but overall, when I'm writing these sort of things, what I'm trying to deliver is the message.
As you may know, I also take a lot of photographs. Whenever I'm writing I feel that I have the opportunity to really focus on the message. Even though I'm not very specific as to what I write, I think all my writings are open to interpretation, but they are less open to interpretation than photographs. It doesn't become only an aesthetic exercise. I don't think that my writing needs to be seen as "beautiful," it's more about reading what I have written. Perhaps if my typography or graphics looked different, it would still be the same because of the questions I feel I have the opportunity to place in other people.
It's almost the inverse of that saying, "A picture is worth a thousand words." But here the words are the picture itself.
Exactly. I think that it was really exciting for me. Of course, this opens another conversation about media, Instagram, and social networks. I think when images are kind of, I wouldn't say losing their value but...
Yeah. I'm not the only artist who uses text as a medium of communication, but you definitely see way less written art on the social platforms where you see photographs. Somehow it makes people focus their attention and really read what you want to say.
Do you think there's a parallel outside of art and fashion, especially politics? In America, Trump ran on a campaign promise that was on a hat, summing up his platform in four words. What does that say about cultural values and communicative permanence in a world of memes?
I prefer to be apolitical in these kind of interviews, but one of the reasons that I think Trump has been so successful – not that I agree with any of the things he proposes or his government – but the language he uses to refer to a massive audience is very easily understood by everyone. It isn't only directed to a super-intellectual minority, everyone has access to what he was saying.
There was an article that basically analyzed every politician using all their speeches, and they explain that a 12-year-old kid would be able to understand [Trump's] sort of speech. I think it's really important how people are using words to refer to audiences, and I think it also links a little bit with your other question.
The reason I asked is because you’ve described your writing less as poetry and more like advertising and marketing copy; things that deliver a cohesive message with a broad appeal. What is it about that medium that fascinates you?
I think words are very precious, and if put together in the right order they can create a linguistic masterpiece that feels like your favorite painting. People call this poetry, but I prefer not to use that word, because poetry seems reduced to poets and language intellectuals.
I don't want to sound like an anti-intellectualist snob or anything like that. Of course, I really enjoy well-written poetry and prose, but what truly fascinates me when using words in my work is to have the opportunity to analyze the way in which people talk, and how this feels so natural to them: the wording used in adverts, cheap slogans, the way children talk when they haven’t fully developed language, and especially how people who are not fluent in a new language still manage to express very complex emotions with limited vocabularies and incorrect grammar.
What I love about language is that it is radically universal. I have been reading all my life. Many different authors, from many different class backgrounds. I always felt when I was a child that in order to make poetry, you had to use a lot of adjectives and be very educated. Actually, what really attracts me is what you hear on the street, what you use as an adverb, or what really young children say, because it's not so intellectualized.
Your 2014 show Let Me Not Introduce Myself the Pleasure Is Yours was sort of a precursor to modern selfie culture, highlighting the insecurities of unconfident individuals. Now, people use fashion as a means to elevate their individuality and feel more confident. Do you think these relate in the context of your collab with Gucci?
The show didn't really play on selfie culture, but rather self-portraiture. This is one of my oldest series and at the time "selfie" wasn't a thing. I think we are more conscious than ever about the image we're delivering of ourselves to other people. I do think that before, perhaps we weren't so conscious.
When I say that I took these photographs in the "pre-selfie era," there were people already taking "selfies," but it wasn't really called that. When I took these images, for example, I think I was probably 18 years old. At the time I was a teenager, so it's the moment in which you really want to create an image for yourself and tell to the rest of the world who you are.
It's kind of this time in insecurity. I do think that many people live trapped in that. I don't think it is necessarily a negative thing, I just think that maybe [social media allows you] to explore yourself in other contexts. I'm always looking on Instagram and seeing what other people are posting.
Most of their pictures are about reaffirming a specific part of society they want to belong to, like luxury holiday pictures, or a super cool guy being seen at a party. I just think that perhaps it's a need in people, because in some instances, they can only exist within that. It's kind of taking away the possibilities of opening conversations and exploring yourself on another and deeper level – like perhaps getting together with your friends and telling them about your holiday from a more personal perspective. I think it's making us produce images constantly to be consumed by loads of people we don't even know.
Your "What are we going to do with all this future?" mural is up in SoHo. There's an interesting cross-section of people that stop, take a photo, and engage with the art. They'll post that on Instagram, and they may not know that it's a Gucci collaboration. They might just identify with the words. It's like Marchel Duchamp's "art coefficient," and the relationship between what's intended and what's understood. People insert themselves into the narrative and complete the work.
I think what is very exciting for me as an artist about these massive writings is what you pretty much said already. It's putting it a different context. For people who perhaps don't work so much in a commercial industry or have no idea how fashion works as an insider, they just wonder: What is that there?
They can have a different reaction – and they will – but for me what is really exciting is this is not something only existing within their iPhone. Even if you don't want to take a selfie, and even if you don't like it, it's sitting there, you can still go and see it. You can be walking by the street and say, "Oh, what is this question about?" or, "This is lame." You can have any sort of reaction publicly, online or offline. I think that's very exciting. This is one of the things that I just really enjoy, how different platforms kind of complement each other and they are not exclusive on their own.
The phrase “I want to go back to beliving a story” is about a desire for childhood innocence, but does it also apply to millennials becoming disillusioned with the real world? Have social media and the internet contributed to a sense of prolonged adolescence and unrealistic life expectations?
In this case, the phrase was really referred to an ideal childhood, when it was easier to believe and "be-living-in" any story or fantasy. I don't think modern society contributes to the creation of prolonged adolescence at all, rather the opposite.
A political system that doesn't reflect the needs of my generation; economic instability; a corrupt democracy that does not represent the voice it says stands for in pretty much every Western Country; the imperial conquest of capitalism as a dominant ideology; making us think that we need things we actually don't and that we need to soon become high achievers to survive in a state of constant competence. This definitely contributed in my case (and many others) to an early abandoned childhood and a general state of disappointment. That invited me to dream and remember a time in which I could believe a story.
The positive part of this is that is the responsibility of artists to invite audiences to believe in stories and offer links to imagine alternatives to their realities questioning our present and making it possible to believe in a story.
Speaking of stories, one thing I really appreciate about Gucci is how it managed to create a consistent visual narrative that's throughout Instagram, digital, and its collections. Can you speak on its ability to fluently navigate between different platforms?
Yeah, I think there's definitely a super intelligent marketing strategy behind all this. They are aware of the power of social networking, but they don't want to forget traditional media. So they are succeeding at using all different channels of communication, which I really, really admire, and I think that's what makes them so current.
At the same time, I think they really look for the collections to be very meaningful. Take for instance the last Gucci show. All the references were from the Renaissance, and the show happened in Florence at the Palazzo, but at the same time it didn't feel like how people dressed in the 16th century at all. They just took a super classic thing and made it contemporary.
I think that's also really exciting for my generation. It's not so much about ignoring the past and doing something new that has never been done before. I think we all kind of agree that everything, on a certain level, has been done before. I think what is exciting is how you do it today, how do you make it good, and how well have you researched into your references. I think that's really, really important.
You’ve expressed that you like Alessandro Michele’s “non-nostalgic vision of the past.” How does he re-contextualize art in a way that feels fresh and relevant?
I think being "non-nostalgy" means looking at the past and taking a few positive aesthetic values without wanting to recreate or repeat it as it was. It feels fresh to reference the Renaissance to create items that are current to our time, like a hoodie, and using the Internet as a platform to discuss atemporal issues and aesthetics. This is what keeps the brand so relevant and so on-point with the present.
Personally, I'm very hungry for meaning. I think there are many things done right now without a meaning. You asked me before what it means go back to believing a story. When you're put in the world without knowing very well what to follow, what made us, or why are we the person that we are, when someone gives meaning to the products you want to consume, it makes it even more attractive to you. You feel that you form part of something; you are not just being the cool kid wearing the cool hoodie just because everyone else is wearing it.
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