7 transparent prints in lightboxes
Composed of a macabre procession of seven digital collages, presented in lightboxes, of high-end fashion — luxurious white silk dresses falling to the floor, animal print overcoats, tuxedos, and tenderly fitted red evening gowns — draped over the lifeless forms of unclaimed cadavers acquired from a local morgue, Défilé, like Who Wants to Live Forever (1998), can be understood as a deconstruction of advertising. Here the artists parade the forsaken as actual dead bodies of anonymous individuals in haute couture while sparing no detail of dumb, grotesque materiality: EKG sensors remain attached to chests, elbows are wrapped in bloody bandages, mouths gape open with a silent echo of a death rattle.
The work was inspired by Giacomo Leopardi’s 1824 “Dialogue between Fashion and Death,” an influential text wherein Fashion claims “sisterhood” with Death in their shared emphasis on the transience and suffering in human existence. Fashion and its media apparatus often romanticize death in the semiotics of its representation, through the metaphors of vampires, ghosts, or zombies, for example. However, in Défilé, representation is eschewed for presentation in the use of actual dead bodies, pushing the visual iconography of advertising to its logical extreme.
Aside from addressing the semiotics of fashion and advertising, this project employs surrealistic strategies in order to evoke a danse macabre, the medieval visual allegory for the inevitability of death: it does so by presenting the viewer both with a further examination of the glamorous death and with a confrontation with the concept of mortality. The memento mori of the sumptuous fabrics and decaying bodies, however, reveals its allusion to surrealist aesthetics both through the contrast of these conventionally opposed categories of luxury and rot, and through the radical transgression of the use of deceased human flesh as a manifestation of the abject, or what George Bataille called base materialism. It is a surrealism born of an essential transgression — the presentation of real death — in order to evoke in the viewer a reaction on the border of disgust. While the first impression is one of a bold, demystifying statement that calls into question the power of fashion considering the transience of human life, we inevitably detect a gesture of tenderness toward these abandoned cadavers that no one would otherwise have dressed port-mortem.
Défilé was first shown in 2007 in a solo exhibition at the Station Museum of Contemporary Art, Houston, Texas, followed by inclusion in a group show, Russian Dreams... at the Bass Museum of Art in Miami, Florida in 2008, and at the Third Moscow Biennial hosted by the Garage Museum of Contemporary Art in Moscow. Subsequently, the work was included in two exhibitions in 2016: as part of the Kochi-Muziris Biennale in Fort Kochi, India and as part of L’Arte Differente: Mocak al MAXXI at the MAXXI museum in Rome.