A young man leans against a wooden structure on the banks of the River Thames. His gaze is on the horizon and he's got his back to the camera. He's wearing a deconstructed hopsack linen piece and oxblood shoes; a necktie covered with buttons and random objects hangs around his back.
Shot by Robyn Beeche, this image - dubbed "Father Thames" - perfectly summarises the spirit of the early '80s in London, with the young man looking avant-garde in an assemblage of clothes and accessories made with simple fabrics and materials.
If this image represents the quintessential spirit of London, so does accessory designer, stylist, art director and fashion consultant Judy Blame. So it seems very apt for him to get his first major solo exhibition at the ICA - "Judy Blame: Never Again", curated by Matt Williams.
Why we had to wait such a long time for this event? Well, Blame has been many things in his career, he escapes definitions and can't be piogeonholed in one field or profession and organising an event about him may be therefore a bit tricky.
Blame left Devonshire at 17, spent a week in London, then settled down in Manchester. He spent here for a couple of years, got acclimatised to the urban environment, and then headed back to London.
He first started producing jewellery to distinguish himself within the London club scene in the early '80s. Though low on resources, he was definitely high on resourcefulness: his DIY approach prompted him to incorporate the most bizarre bits and pieces in his designs such as lost and found objects he at times spotted while mudlarking on the banks of the Thames.
While the main point of these adornments featuring safety pins, buttons, badges, pearls, corroded bottle tops, bottle openers, keys and cutlery, plastic bags and toy soldiers was standing out from the crowd, once reassembled these mass produced elements turned from the debris of a society based on waste and suffering from industrial and economic decline into richly textured layered tokens shaping an almost tribal identity and a new and cool youth culture.
Around this period of time, Blame met and influenced creative minds such as Boy George, Derek Jarman, Anthony Price, John Maybury and Leigh Bowery. In his autobiography, Straight, Boy George wrote that Blame would arrive with a bag of safety pins and a cork and would create "a fashion revolution". Indeed the pieces for performers à la Boy George in which Blame turned the ordinary into the extraordinary inspired fans who imitated them, starting new trends.
In 1985 Blame helped John Moore to establish The House of Beauty and Culture in Dalston, a craft collective of like-minded artists and designers including Fiona Skinner, Dave Baby, Fiona Bowen, John Flett, Peter Foster, Alan Macdonald & Fritz Solomon (furniture making duo Fric & Frack), Richard Torry and Christopher Nemeth.
The collective experience led Blame later on in his life to become a consultant and collaborate with various labels and designers including John Galliano, Rifat Ozbek, Rei Kawakubo at Comme des Garçons, Gareth Pugh, Marc Jacobs and Kim Jones at Louis Vuitton.
Fashion and music represented the main fields in which Blame has worked: meeting the late stylist Ray Petri (behind the Buffalo fashion collective) led to key collaborations with Neneh Cherry (he styled her iconically dynamic and sporty look for her performance of "Buffalo Stance" on Top of the Pops in 1988, when she was heavily pregnant).
But Blame also produced fashion editorials with photographers Mark Lebon, Mark Mattock, Jean Baptiste Mondino and Juergen Teller for publications such as i-D, and The Face, acting as art director, image maker and consultant for Björk and Massive Attack among the others.
Blame's "composite" identity may have turned the ICA exhibition into a chaotic affair, instead it's a concise space dominated by the make-do-and-mend spirit of punk and featuring a variety of objects - from clothes and jewellery (obviously there are piles of buttons and keys...) to neo-Dada collages, fashion editorials (with some pictures shot by Beeche) and sketchbooks.
Another show - "Artistic Differences" - at the ICA complements this space and celebrates Blame's collaborative side, bringing together artists and designers with whom he has worked throughout his career - from Charles Atlas (check out the 1987 film "Hail the New Puritan") and Jake and Dinos Chapman to Derek Jarman, Jim Lambie, Mark Lebon, Linder, John Maybury, Jamie Reid, Peter Saville, Juergen Teller, Nicola Tyson (see the 1983 film "Judy Blame on Southwark Bridge") and Tim Noble & Sue Webster.
While "Judy Blame: Never Again" is definitely not a retrospective, it is a way to stop and take stock, maybe thinking about all the times we believe we are creating our own individual styles, while we are actually being twisted and manipulated by the fashion industry and essentially told to conform rather than encouraged to be different.
So the ICA event - accompanied by a limited edition zine compiled by Judy Blame that you can pick up at the venue and by a wonderful interview with Blame himself in conersation with ICA Executive Director Gregor Muir (check out the youtube.com video at the end of this post) - should be taken as an opportunity to think about materials, creativity and images (for Blame a diamond is never better than a safety pin, and pay attention to that chain hanging from one necklace - it's actually a toilet chain...), and learn more about the power of genuine creative collaborations, something that may help visitors finding the strength needed to oppose the negative energies of the Brexit.
"Judy Blame: Never Again", The Institute of Contemporary Arts (ICA), The Mall, London SW1Y 5AH, UK, until 4th September 2016.
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