It is no easy feat to summarily describe the full breadth of Michèle Lamy’s creative output, an output that spans decades and includes the roles of criminal defense attorney, restauranteur, furniture purveyor, night club entertainer, and high priestess of the cult of Rick Owens, the eponymous fashion label engineered by her husband. More challenging still is to contextualize the performative aspects of Lamy’s work around a performance that she has specifically asked not to be referred to as a ‘performance.’ As the saying goes, ‘here goes nothing.’
Lamy is in town to christen the opening of a Rick Owens pop-up shop at famed Berlin concept store Andreas Murkudis. “I don't know, why is it a performance?” she answers bluntly when we meet to discuss the evening ahead of us. “It's always about having the right people together… it seems in Berlin we are touching, so far, little piece of things, it's like a work in progress. Or perhaps it's going to get somewhere.” Just a few months prior to our meeting, Lamy opened for radical queer performance artist Christeene at a specially-curated show at Berghain, where she delivered a set of Yoko Ono-esque vocal pieces before being wrapped in pillow-like fabric and removed from the stage by a squadron of back-up dancers.
Whether or not one adheres to the terminology, Lamy has spent a considerable portion of the past couple years working within the realm of performance, mostly stemming from her work with LAVASCAR, an experimental noise band consisting of herself, her daughter Scarlett Rouge, and punk-oriented sound artist Nico Vascellari. Their 2017 debut album A Dream Deferred is a jarring journey of fast-pasced, techno-flavored industrial music, tied together by hypnotic sections of spoken word, all of which were sourced from the poetry of Langston Hughes. The trio worked with producer Rocco Rampino, alias Congorock, on A Dream Deferred and their subsequent release Garden of Memory.
Creating these records was a project that “came out of the blue,” and yet it was put together rather seamlessly. “We did the thing in five days, the first album that I really like,” she says. “It’s a different sound. It’s a noise. Nico on the drums, me doing what I think is rap, and my daughter Scarlett with this high voice doing a lot of animal noises.”
Though short her fellow bandmates, Lamy brought Rampino along for her non-performance at the opening of the Murkudis pop-up shop where she distilled the LAVASCAR sound to its essential ingredients. As Rampino proffered an array of the thudding beats from their catalog, Michèle Lamy lit up on the microphone, chanting dissociative lyrics while walking furtively about the space. It was crowded, and it wasn’t long before the spectators up front launched into a dance that was both manic and restrained; as if everyone was ready to mosh but remained keenly aware that a small 75-year old woman was in their immediate vicinity. It was raw, it was chaotic, and it was extremely on brand for the Rick Owens experience.
Some of this was, inevitably, by design. As we continue to discuss the minutiae of performance theory and her practice, Lamy says that she gets “especially excited if I don't exactly know what I'm going to do. It's not improvising, because I know what I’m going to think. For example, the piece at Berghain for Christeene, I was of course super happy but still not exactly knowing what I was going to do before. But being in the place, and when I saw this balcony, it all came together. But we did not fully rehearse it. That was a great moment, it was like when we are hugging each other before we are fighting each other. That was making me very high.”
While categorizing her various projects according to certain parameters is anathema to Lamy’s artistic ethos, I point out that there is one element that seems to definitively separate performance from other mediums: an audience. And even if she shuns the idea of herself as a serious performer, she certainly can’t deny she knows how to work a room, let alone enjoy doing so. In a 2018 interview with i-D, she characterized her magnetic energy as more of a “curiosity” fueled by a “desire to entertain people.”
“I think I was aware a very long time ago,” she says while reflecting on the origin of said desire, “and I didn't know what to do about it. You know, it's all about making another story… my philosophy is like the Thousand and One Nights; there has to be a story for there to be a story, in another story. And there are so many people that you would love to do things together but you don't have the time. So [performing spaces] make a little amount of communion.”
Communion, or more specifically, collaboration, is the crux of Michèle Lamy’s approach to both art and life in general. The beating heart of this spirit is, of course, her relationship with Owens. Their dynamic is one that completely subverts the traditional narrative of an artist and their muse. “It's an extraordinary thing of non-said collaboration,” she says regarding their relationship, “Unspoken. It's spoken with act, the two of us doing things is more important than anything spoken. And he looks marvelous, doesn’t he?” she grins.
We steer our way through all manner of conversation topics, from travel advice (“In the desert, you know, you stop to take a shit, you think you are alone and all of a sudden there are 15 kids around you. This is the thing when you travel.”) to encroaching age (“Perhaps because I am thinking, God I'm old, I'd better do it all now.”) but we settle on the notion that her performative work is possibly not a performance but an installation, in much the same way that she has plotted out her elaborate projects in event spaces around the globe.
On the other hand, who cares what we call it? As the throng of Owens acolytes thrashing with glee at the store opening so vividly proved, Michèle Lamy is doing quite well for herself without knowing exactly what she is going to do.
Revisit our 2018 profile on Michèle Lamy for Highsnobiety Magazine right here.