Pandemonia the Artist: On Gaultier, Giorgio Vasari, and Grace Jones’s Libertango
There is an anonymous figure on the other end of the phone. The interviewee is known simply as Pandemonia, though, there is nothing simple about this individual, Pandemonia the Artist. Some say Pandemonia is a living sculpture who, after years on the front row of Fashion Week, walked in Jean Paul Gaultier’s final show in Théâtre du Châtelet in January of this year. Others say that Pandemonia is an artist, who, in becoming a social media sensation, is making a parody of the 21st-century media-sphere. Pandemonia is all of these things, but she is also so much more. Yes, Pandemonia is an artist, a model, and a glossy, ageless, 7-foot tall socialite who is a construct of symbols and archetypes. However, Pandemonia is also an expert in Renaissance sculptures. Pandemonia has studied Homer and Odysseus and the Trojan War and quotes Virginia Woolf’s Orlando as though modernist 20th-century literature is their native language. What should we learn from this? There is a lot more to Pandemonia than what meets the eye.
When it comes to London Fashion Week or any fashion week across the globe, there is a lot more to the festival than admiring the fashion on the catwalk. Pandemonia shared how “Seeing what other people wear is a huge part of a fashion show. Much of the fashion show is about networking. It is not only about what people are wearing in the fashion show. Rather, it is the whole hype and drama around the show”. It is also the excitement around the after-parties, which led to one of the craziest nights of Pandemonia’s life: “A few years back during London fashion week I went to all the best after-parties. Eventually, I found myself at the Naked Heart foundations, Fabulous Fund Fair. Supermodel, Natalia Vladinova put on this incredible party with fairground rides and carnival sideshows”. Pandemonia went on: “The place was heaving with celebrity’s of which I am notoriously bad at recognising. It was late. The place was thinning out. Through the heady mist of champagne bubbles, I noticed somebody standing all alone looking at me. I crossed over to her. My mind cleared, and the words form Grace Jones’s Libertango “Strange, I’ve seen that face before…” floated into my head. It was Emmanuelle Seigner. We locked fingers in amazement, staring at each other, no doubt for different reasons. Obviously, I wanted a photo, but I’m much to polite to ask. I’ve seen many of her films, including Venus in Furs and am intrigued by Roman Polanski. We uncoupled fingers and parted like ships in the night. She disappeared into the party never to be seen again”.
Drinking champagne and bumping into French actresses is the normal at fashion week; however, in the time of a pandemic, where there is no normal, what does the future of fashion look like? “Fashion week just can’t happen until they have a vaccine for this virus” argues Pandemonia. “You hear rumours that fashion shows will take place virtually, but I do not see the point. A huge part of the fashion show is about is being seen. You wear great clothes, you see great clothes, and you meet great people, but this can’t happen during a virtual event. It is a killer for the fashion industry”. The ongoing situation surrounding COVID-19 also raises questions as to whether Pandemonia will ever walk in a fashion show again, as once you reach the pinnacle, that is Jean-Paul Gaultier’s ultimate show, where could you ever hope to go from there? “Gaultier finished his career on this show, and then the virus happened, so it feels like a lot of full stops” shared Pandemonia. “Where would I go from here?” In hearing Pandemonia recall walking in Gaultier’s iconic show, it is understandable to see how the night was truly the epitome of a fashion event. “As an artist, I spend a lot of time working alone in my bubble oblivious to many things” began Pandemonia, who began describing their favourite memory of the night. “When I got to the end of the runway, Anna Wintour was at my feet ecstatically bouncing around in her chair! Only then it hit me that this was the pinnacle of the fashion world, the live orchestrator playing Nina Hagen, the supermodels, Jean Paul, I raised my arm to all. A month later we were in lockdown, that was the last fashion show I went to. The question arises, will there be any more?”.
New trends come and go on the catwalk, but one face one the front row remains ageless, whatever the season. The pleasures of immortality are, however, not all that one might imagine, as Pandemonia reveals how she feels “slightly detached”. Pandemonia continues: “I see people ageing around me. I shift through different social groups same tunes different beats. Maybe this is how immortality might feel like, a 21st century Orlando”. But why the metaphor of Orlando? Because “the figure of Orlando is ageless. It passes through different eras. In a way, it is like a spirit, and in some sense, I hope I have been able to achieve this. It appeared that Pandemonia’s reference to Orlando was an ode to the artist’s love for the author, as Pandemonia expanded: “I love Virginia Woolf. She is vastly intelligent and is an amazing writer. I love how she skips and jumps across so many different ideas so effortlessly. She seems to capture the whisper of what you are thinking”.
If Pandemonia had the opportunity to travel back in time to any period, it would not be to the nineteen-twenties, as you might expect a Woolf lover to choose. Instead, it would be to the Renaissance era, which captivated Pandemonia after reading the work of Giorgio Vasari. “If you read Lives of the Most Excellent Painters, Sculptors, and Architects by Vasari, you get a sense of the lives of the famous Renaissance figures. Vasari talks about discovering the Laocoön sculpture and about how Michelangelo used to age his sculptures by burying them in the ground, and it all sounds incredible”. In many ways, Pandemonia’s immortality mirrors the enduring relevance of these literary greats, which this artist continues to enjoy, whether that is the work of Woolf, Vasari, or in the Greek classics: “I get a lot of my ideas from books, even if it is not directly. I see it as an equation. If I take one piece of the story out and replace it with Pandemonia, then what would happen? I became very interested in archetypes, so I turned to classic literature and read about Homer and Odysseus and the Trojan War” revealed Pandemonia, who went on: “I saw elements of myself in these stories. For example, I compared myself to a Trojan horse. It looks like one thing, but it is something else. I can also see my many journeys’ around the world mirrored in Odysseus in The Odyssey”.
The enduring relevance of these texts run parallel to the key aims which Pandemonia wishes to achieve through their artwork. Pandemonia urges consumers to look beyond the surface value of their art, stating: “I am trying to reach all corners of society, but this often means that my work is only taken at face value. I want to urge people to think about what is under the surface and the implications of what I am doing.
I created Pandemonia as an artificial person to represent our times. I was thinking of Hobbes’ Leviathan, the body politic. Pandemonia is a Frankensteins monster built out of advertising goals. Questions such as who we are and what agency do we have in society, were prevalent in my mind. By performing Pandemonia to the public, she undermines the social system that masks reality. Similar to the trickster character, she transcends the normal rules of behaviour. She reminds us not to accept the limitations of our self and demonstrates the radical potentialities of being human”.
What can possibly be next for Pandemonia? After already discussing the current complications surrounding socialising during fashion events, Pandemonia shared that they were now focusing on sharing their art “virtually”. “I don’t necessarily mean virtual on the internet, but I mean it regarding painting” shared Pandemonia. “In this time of change, I have to adapt and find new ways of showing my work”. Pandemonia famously turned down the chance to work with Lady Gaga, but in a time of experimenting with diverse projects, would they be tempted to rekindle this partnership? “A lot of time has passed since that request. As I recall, I was asked by one of Lady Gaga’s team if I would make something for her, but they had no budget. Apart from the money I was concerned I would lose ownership of my image. I tried to see if there was a middle way where Pandemonia could present a dress to Lady Gaga, but there was no give. To me it looked like a loose-loose situation. Then Lady Gaga suddenly got really big, so I always wondered if I was a bit hasty”. Pandemonia concluded, “Looking back, I think Lady Gaga’s team weren’t serious about me designing for her. If the opportunity arose again, I would act the same. Artists and designers need to be respected for their work. Although if they had some budget and a proper line of communication, I would be delighted to design for Lady Gaga”.
More than ten years on from creating Pandemonia, this artist has, in many ways, come full circle, as she is now labelled as a “celebrity”. This title is, however, used as a “medium” by Pandemonia, who shares: “Celebrity is one of the mechanisms of our culture. A decade on from creating Pandemonia we are now practically ruled by celebrities”. Where will the next ten years take Pandemonia? Whether it is to an Ancient Greek kingdom, 15th century Rome or a fairground with Emmanuelle Seigner, the possibilities are endless.
By Megan Slack – Magazine by Runway Gallery