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In Words

The Run-Up
The Run-Up
(In)dependence
Art
Fashion
In and Out
Maggie Lee
Pippa Garner
POC
Quilted
Sean Tatol
TikTok
Walking While Trans

How has it happened that much of the most captivating art we’ve been presented with on our screens at home during the past months of lockdown has been supported, (co)produced, or distributed by the fashion industry? That’s a question we began debating at the beginning of this year. We reached out to New York-based Canadian-American writer Fiona Alison Duncan to see if she would be interested in investigating and examining the ambivalent relationship between fashion and the arts as well as the (in)dependencies it produces. Her piece—an idiosyncratic art and fashion (non)critique (and a critique of it)—does more than that. The text zig-zags through various ins and outs, and she questions the relations of (in)dependence between the private and the public, the common and the individual, solidarity and solitude. It’s accompanied by a selection of personal photographs, crowdsourced by the author. In conjunction with these pictures, Duncan’s piece documents a time that someday might hopefully just have been a crisis, a phase after all.

Text Fiona Alison Duncan
Images crowdsourced by the Author


Interdependence and Individuality

Mid-April, out in New York, everyone’s getting close. If not fucking, then talking about who’s fucking whom, as in sex and getting screwed over. It’s natural, after over a year of social repression, that we would overindulge in incestuous interactions as soon as was excusable: crashing into clumsy hookups in a matrix of triangulated crushes and living out unmet needs in the form of sibling-rivalry-style bullying and breakups. Since spring’s thaw and since everyone over sixteen qualifies for a vaccine, suddenly there are birthday parties twice a week and tables full of adopted family dinners. People are rushing into affairs and hosting belated memorials (the death toll keeps rising, my heart; in our extended network, it’s from drug overdoses, drug-fueled accidents, old age complications, and suicides, all arguably Covid-related). While the anticipation of loss—fear—and the unreality of losses learned over the phone froze me like a Montreal snowstorm, the ability to lock eyes and hug and mourn not alone is breeding a life on top of the life that springs always brings. The city is honking as loudly as daffodils look like they should with longing, ecstasy, confusion, anger, entitlement, lust, grief, relief, caution, and Covid babies. Will we get laid? Be found by love? When will we march again? How can we organize? Will the gossip subside or amp up even gnarlier?

It’s fun to know and be known intimately. I like a little entanglement.

I overdosed on drama before my second dose of Moderna. I’d like to find a balance between minding my business and living within a community. It’s fun to know and be known intimately. I like a little entanglement. And I don’t want to hurt anybody, or get hurt, unnecessarily. Urgency makes me clumsy. I have practices to slow myself down. There are some of the questions I ask myself… everyday:

How can we live mindful of the reality of interdependence—that we all exist in a shared ecosystem, where culture, language, and money flow like water and viruses—without turning a blind eye to the fact that so much of our survival is connected to systems of oppression and control?

How can we undo those systems in the short and long term while participating—to eat—in the immediate?

What is our responsibility to one another (what are the limits of agency and intervention?) when, in my experience at least, true transformation must come from within, as much as it can be guided and helped from without?

Finally, how can we bust the myth of individualism, which can trick sweet folks into thinking there’s no option but selfishness, or that they’re all alone, yet still honor the beauty of individuality? Snowflake is not an insult. It’s totally wise: We’re unique and innumerable, indistinct from a distance. An expression of nature, we melt in warm hands.

Photo by Asya уланова.  

At Precious Okoyomon’s show Fragmented Body Perceptions as Higher Vibration Frequencies to God at Performance Space in New York’s East Village, it seemed like they’d installed a snow machine. Flakes were falling from the ceiling onto rocks, soil, and visitors. Upon closer inspection, the snowflakes looked more like tiny soap bubbles. It was a solution that held ash from incinerated kudzu, a vine, native to Japan and other parts of Asia, that was used to prevent soil erosion from the cultivation of cotton in the United States during slavery. Kudzu is known as an invasive species as it smothers other plants and trees under a blanket of leaves, hoarding the sunlight that it and the species beneath it rely on to survive. The kudzu as ash in New York was grown for Okomoyon’s previous solo exhibition at the MMK in Frankfurt titled Earthseed, after a fictional religion by the late author Octavia E. Butler. In Butler’s novels, a young African-American woman with X-Men-level hyperempathy named Lauren Oya Olamina fights for survival and struggles to find meaning in a version of the 2020s similar to what we are experiencing, where the climate crisis and wealth inequality result in civil war and street violence. Olamina’s Earthseed religion and community is founded on principles of flux and interrelatedness. As she writes:

All that you touch

You Change.

All that you Change

Changes you

The only lasting truth

Is Change

God

Is Change.

Earlier this year, a rover called “Perseverance” landed in a Martian crater. The red planet site was dubbed the “Octavia E. Butler Landing,” an honor that is at best ignorant in its cruelty, as becomes obvious when you think a little more about it. As critic and artist Mandy Harris Williams pointed out (on IG Stories): “Butler wrote about humans who would rather live on Mars than choose tolerance after they’ve nearly met extinction because our species can’t disentangle intelligence from hierarchy. So this is one of these representational moments that feels really fucking off”—especially when you think about how Elon Musk is proposing to recreate slavery on Mars (if you can’t buy your way there, you enter into indentured labor).

Photo by Jonas Wendelin.

“The longer I was in there, the more hostile the space felt,” a visitor outside of Precious’s show said. Their first impression was, wow nature. Here we are in a former public school among moss, fish in a pond, ladybugs, and the cross-culture spiritual practice of stacked stones. As the music became more ominous, the visitor noticed how “artificial” the space was: the speaker system, the snow machine, dead ladybugs, and the thick tarp the installation rested on so as to not damage the building. This confrontation between what some humans think of as “artificial” versus “natural,” technology and architecture versus plant and animal life, as if it’s not all generated from the same Earth and Universe, or God—and how this can be experienced as tension, schism, failure, or hostile—was the most powerful aspect of the show for me. And maybe what Precious meant by “fragmented body perceptions”?


Indigestion (In and Out) 

When Various Artists approached me, they asked me to contribute a piece about contemporary meetings of fashion and art, a topic that intrigued V/A’s editors. A mutual colleague, Dean Kissick, had already written the following in Spike Art Magazine, critiquing the art world’s response to Covid limitations:

There are so few new ideas, even in medium or form. Fashion houses, for comparison, have found new ways of presenting this year’s collections through video games, film festivals, virtual fashion weeks, shows outdoors on Paris’s streets, shows delivered to houses in boxes, shows you assemble yourself, shows that only Kristen Stewart’s allowed to attend. The only art world innovations I can think of are online art fairs and anonymous Instagram callout accounts.

The editors of V/A were curious as to why fashion, specifically artist collaborations in fashion, felt so vibrant compared to “art” shows throughout the pandemic. Dean didn’t want to expand on it. After hesitating for weeks, I agreed.

«Fashion PPE 1» Photo by Bebe Yama. Courtesy of the Artist.

It seemed simple at first. Fashion as image circulation, as mimetic desire, was already happening online. Art is something more. Art is the transformation of materials into something that resonates at the ineffable level humans are drawn to like they may be drawn to an amazing person or event, like it holds secrets and can catalyze change or tune you into the reality of change a.k.a. the eternal present. (Note that I’m not talking about what “art” in is an industry context. That’s beyond my paygrade today.) People can make art in the field of fashion. You can make art out of fashionable materials and concepts. Art can be exhibited or made for online, but great art is rare in any medium. And people upload billions of images to the internet every day. Some of these images and the patterns they create are fashion.

Photo by Amna Khurshid.

My friends who work in “fine art” mediums—painting, sculpture, etc.—had no interest in exhibiting during lockdown pandemic unless sales were guaranteed, the work was politically timely, or they could otherwise get a fair return on their investment, meaning all the thought, time, and energy spent on the work won’t be reduced to a .jpg of a show no one, including themselves, would actually see or care about. Just like there are people who are far more radiant in person, there is work that does not translate to Instagram or an online exhibition, and it shouldn’t have to. To pivot suddenly to a new medium or mode of exhibition, when so many of us have been dealing with loss—if not the death of loved ones, then losses of businesses and income, housing, lifestyles, the ability to travel to loved ones—how? Care and energy have felt, if not scarce, then redirected. (It’s worth noting that, for some people in the U.S., Covid-19 offered relief in the form of extra unemployment aid that amounted to a living wage, which minimum wage is not. There also was the promise that Covid-related healthcare costs would be covered by the Federal government, even for the uninsured, if you were aware of it and asked. And evictions were postponed. Finally, it was publicly acknowledged how broken our systems are. As a result, many could relax, and protest.) “My stamina is low,” I kept saying, and by that I meant: Stamina for the hustle. I only wanted to engage with who and what were most important to me: chosen family, “timeless” art (a novel), and movements for social justice.

Apparently, I was paying attention to more than that though. Because as soon as this essay prompt was offered, a slideshow of art meets fashion moments from last year returned to me.

There was the image of artist and filmmaker Tourmaline, who was just awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship, in pink Vaquera photographed by MaryV for Vogue, circulating on social media as part of a fundraising campaign for her to get a pink convertible, was it a Mustang?

There was Vaquera, that lovely art-adjacent fashion brand, winning the unofficial runway-replacement challenge by allocating budget towards local wheat-paste posters.

Raffaela Hanley (Photo: Kat Herriman). Courtesy of the Artist.

Not fashion, but a trend: Gossip rags flourished in the fishbowl that is Downtown, New York. Some start off anonymous, then once an audience is engaged, Batman takes off his mask and we find the Joker beneath, as it happened with the Manhattan Art Review, which people like to read because no one else is writing critical reviews. And why would they? It’s brutally underpaid hard work that can make you hated. The language of critique has its own pitfalls, all related to othering and imposing hierarchies of value. I have never been uglier, that is in more pain, physically, mentally, emotionally, or spiritually, than when I was writing rapid-fire fashion, art, and culture criticism for less than a living wage circa 2012-14. Even writing this piece, which I agreed to out of something like nostalgia, I smell like I haven’t since those years. I step away from my desk looking like Charlize Theron in Monster and reeking like I only do when I force myself to write in argumentative modes I may have never come to use had I not been trained to, first by my father, then the academy, editors and publishers.

A few years ago, I was telling a friend who’s a notable critic about the ease and joy I was experiencing having given up nonfiction for fiction and poetry.

“Of course,” she replied. “You don’t have to be right.”

Conceiving of care as power, which I do thanks to feminists such as Riane Eisler, Starhawk and bell hooks, gives me the clarity, calm, confidence and energy needed to act mindfully.

«Sarah at Vaquera FW21 backstage 2021»
Photo by Marcus Cuffie. Courtesy of the artist.

My friends want me to write something I’ve said to them, about how Manhattan Art Review, like Adam Curtis, should check his femmephobic blind spot. He, Sean Tatol, exhibits a disinterest in and distaste for fashion, dress, sensuality, and performances of embodiment we associate in the West with “femininity” in his reviews of many artists mentioned in this article (Maggie Lee, SoiL Thornton, Women’s History Museum; also, Lucy McKenzie, Chloe Wise, Stewart Uoo…) that reminds me of Adam Curtis’ erasure of women’s and queer movements in his histories. Curtis makes films about “power.” He seems to want the world to be different, less cruel and alienating. The “power” Curtis documents is that of establishment dominator culture, power over others. What about the power to give life, take care, make beautiful, share pleasure, bright light and unite? Conceiving of care as power, which I do thanks to feminists such as Riane Eisler, Starhawk and bell hooks, gives me the clarity, calm, confidence and energy needed to act mindfully. That feels like power. Whereas watching Curtis’ recent documentaries paralyzes me. What’s the connection to Tatol? Something about what we give importance to. What is worthy of our attention. What our work is in greater service to.

Part of me likes the new New York gossip rags because they breed bonding; they got everyone talking. So much of the writing is mean-spirited, reproducing insider/outsider cliques and crabs-in-a-barrel in-fighting. As if we’re not all extremely vulnerable. What other mirrors might we hold up to each other?

Moving on:

There was “Denim Tears” Tremaine Emory getting artist David Hammons’ African-American Flag and signature on a pair of Converse sneakers while demanding that Nike, which owns Converse, take action against systemic racism via donations and promoting voting through education.

There was Bernie’s inauguration fit—resignation, fatigue, and perseverance—the first major meme of the year.

Photo by Anonymous.

A couple months later, in the wake of dear brilliant Sophie’s death (that was also turned into a meme too fast; “the demand for quick obituaries and elegies is always so chilling—shouldn’t honoring the newly dead take pause and silence and the care of patience,” a tweet by @jasminprix), there was Soph’s former collaborator and beloved friend Sigrid Lauren of FlucT doing choreography for Mugler in a fashion film worth watching. When I saw FlucT’s 2018 show is it god or am i dog? at Signal gallery with Sophie, I immediately wanted to write about the experience—that means I feel alive, in love, touched somehow. I couldn’t write then, and am grateful that now I get to put something down: How FlucT’s Lauren and Mirabile managed to get bodies moving in what is usually a stiff space, the gallery—on our backs, on our knees, chasing their image around the room (a flying projection)—was an incredible and subtle feat of choreography.

There was Hamishi Farah’s painting of a model at Gogo Graham’s F/W 2020-21 show, which took place in the Judson Memorial Church in February 2020, weeks before lockdown in New York. Farah paints from photographs. The image they chose from Gogo’s show was of a dark-skinned model with a stained-glass white “Jesus” in her shadow. The model is wearing what looks like a sheer hood used to protect garments from makeup when dressing. Gogo put her community of models in these hoods that season, some fair toned, some stained in dark foundation. What I remember from Gogo’s show, which I was lucky enough to see in person (actually Hamishi’s too, I happened to be in LA when their Chateau Shatto show with this painting was up, counting my blessings), was the soothing sound of security tags clicking. Gogo affixed security tags in rows that recalled fish scales or fringe to skirt hems, jacket shoulders, and bags. She told Paper Mag it was an aesthetic and symbolic choice, “a reference to my experiences with employees in retail spaces, assuming I’m there to steal.” Rather than recalling the wail of a machine signaling workers to search me, by placing a lot of security tags together, Gogo transformed their aural association. I ordered a bag from that collection. It came yesterday. Every time it moves, a gentle ASMR cascades. 

Photo by Cruz Mendez.

Saul Williams’ spoken poetry gave me chills in a runway film by artists Wu Tsang with Sophia Al Maria, Tosh Basco, and Kandis Williams for Louis Vuitton by Virgil Abloh also worth watching, for which I hope LVMH paid the artists crazy money.

Jeremy O. Harris got roasted in the comments of a TikTok he posted where he boasts about all the free clothes he gets.

TikTok! Some antagonized Gen Zs decided skinny jeans are out, so after years of wearing the cut of pants they’re into now, I’m back in skinnies. Meanwhile, other post-911 styles (emo, hipster, Paris Hilton) are being channeled by young GeniuZs. People who were old enough to wear the looks the first time say it’s too soon. I’m game. Less so for digital clothing, which is being advocated for on TikTok as a sustainable alternative to fast fashion, the idea being, for those who need a new look in every post (you don’t), rendering clothes digitally instead of fabricating them could save the planet? I wonder. Thanks to NFTs, we’re learning just how material, how ecological, data is.

Women’s History Museum’s Mort de la Mode…Everything must go! at Company Gallery felt, appropriate to the age, haunted. I loved the leopard-ish print mannequins, open magazine sculptures that looked like ice cream cakes, and the digital rendering of the exhibition made with the same software that is used to advertise apartments for lease.

The vacancy of Women’s History Museum’s show, mimicking a store you can’t shop at, filled with work of theirs I swear I’ve seen before, reminded me of Visitor Design’s Our Community book, a collection of the temporary closure announcements that were papered on Madison Avenue and Soho storefronts, Valentino, Bottega, Brioni, Agent Provocateur, etc., when they were boarded up to prevent looting during the Black Lives Matter protests. “It’s an anthology of corporate panic, tone deafness, and cognitive dissonance,” the artist writes.

Speaking of which, a double American Met Costume Institute show was announced, sounding like some US and Vogue propaganda, very crisis / war to choose nationalism.

Coming from over in France, I think, let’s say Europe, The Opioid Crisis Lookbook, self-described as “the first narco-capitalism fueled lifestyle magazine,”got all my friends reading and curious. Their Instagram is nauseating and provocative. The merch is cool. I wanted to buy a tank top with Tatu and a bootleg of a big pharma plushy, but then decided I couldn’t support, because even though the first two interviews of the first issue of the magazine, with artist Bjarne Melgaard and philosopher Laurent de Sutter, were fascinating, the rest wasn’t: I kept turning the page, for over 200 pages, shocked that a contemporary magazine on drugs could still be, NOW, glamorizing white heroin-cum-opioid chic, without even a nod to Nan Goldin, when wars on drugs, from opium to crack and marijuana, have been about racist, classist violence and incarceration, are still ongoing?

Photo of Haley Wollens by Matt Hilvers. Courtesy of the Artist.

Maggie Lee at Nordstrom. Take five escalators up in what was last century’s mecca, now a doomed space, the department store, past racks and racks of trash clothing, to a far empty corner, where peachy rose chaise lounges invite you to lean back. “No Loitering” signs are hung at oddly high levels, and you wonder if it’s the artist’s work or a remnant of the department store. It’s Maggie Lee reminding you of teenage temporality. The videos, projected on the wall and on old TVs with built-in DVDs, are of black and white cityscapes captured from an overground subway, the artist Citi biking with a candle, and downtown kids putting lotion on their hands and arms. Flat abstract forms line the walls like craft stickers, flower-like, butterfly-like, paisley-like. In pictures, they do little, but with direct eye contact, it’s as if you can feel the artist’s hands and heart in every shape and texture. And you want to stay and come back. Unlike the galleries and museums nearby (you’re blocks from the base of Central Park, near MoMA and Marian Goodman), Nordstrom is open past dark, seven days a week.

How do you feel?

I had the idea to write this thing as an “in and out” list, since this issue’s theme is “In”dependence and a list would’ve been efficient. I have six more references I want to make—and that’s me holding back. You could call this essay “In”digestion.How thoroughly have you processed the contents of your life? Then I thought I’d rather never see an “in and out” list again. Is their efficiency not a form of violence? Conscious ignorance? It’s like… Flowers bloom then comes the fruit “in” season. What about when the seed is in the ground? I bet the greatest works of art connected to today are in their incubation stage. All this decay is fertilizing.

I’ll be quick—

«Bubble Head at Black Sex Worker Liberation March & Vigil, August 1st 2020, Times Square»
Photo courtesy of the author.

For Autumn 2021, Demna’s Balenciaga team, once-collaborators with the now-cancelled artist Jon Rafman, did knight armor, a nod to Nicolas Ghesquiere’s Spring 2007 Balenciaga robot leggings and maybe inspired—not to get all Diet Prada—by artist Jade Kiriki Olivo’s use of the knight armor. Jade, aka Puppies Puppies—who has spent the last year dedicated to trans lives, black lives, and sex worker activism, showing up to every local march and demonstration—wore knight armor as a performance in response to New York’s “Walking While Trans” law, which allowed police officers to arbitrarily arrest and detain people for looking like they might be “loitering for the purpose of prostitution,” and which, like “Stop and Frisk” before it, disproportionately targeted people of color, trans women especially. Of her armor, Jade wrote: “is it better I dress this way? Instead of my short skirt because I could possibly be doing sex work fuck you I am that’s how this armor came to be I will be walking around parts of NYC locations and times tbd (dedicated to Adrian Piper conceptual art heroine) #sometimesitfeelslikeputtingarmouronwalkingoutthedoorasatranswomxn.” There are achievements to celebrate: Since the new year, New York has repealed its “Walking While Trans” law and is taking steps towards decriminalizing sex work, no longer prosecuting the workers and dismissing hundreds of open cases against them. Vigilance and perseverance are needed however, and not the kind that colonizes Mars. As a friend who has been part of sex worker rights and adjacent movements since the eighties said: “We’ll get two steps forward and forced one back.” Armor up.

“I’ve been here for like, forever.”

It wouldn’t be a Covid-era fashion art review without Telfar Clemens, whose middle name could be Perseverance. I was reminded of my first encounter with the American designer and artist when I noticed quilted looks were all over the F/W 2021-22 runways, at Miu Miu, Eckhaus Latta, Rick Owens, and Thom Browne, to name a few. In 2013, Telfar, then equally embedded in “fashion” & “art” worlds, like his friends at Dis, was showing at a gallery in Midtown. “Quilted/Comfort,” the seasonal fashion collection he was exhibiting included an virtual styling game (he was always ahead of the game) alongside prototypes of quilted garments displayed on an installation by Lizzie Fitch and Nick Rodrigues. Telfar had already been making work under his name for eight years. Fast forward. Now Telfar is everywhere, including the cover of TIME magazine, and Wendy Williams is saying to him on her show: “It’s like you came out of nowhere.”

“No,” Telfar replies. “I’ve been here for like, forever.”


The Violent Innocence of Inclusivity

Fashion appears to move fast. Irreverence is part of its charm, and its harm. It’s not supposed to take itself too seriously, or it happens in this feminine and queer space people outside of it like to dismiss, and yet we know its influence: Fashion is pop now. So mass.

Fashion needs artists and can afford to buy them.

The smartest artists, for example Wu Tsang, Kandis Williams, and Tosh Basco with their work at LV, understand what fashion is, including its limits, the trade-off, and they participate in it strategically.

Photo by Cruz Mendez.

Saving the best for last, for my two last “in” words, I wanted to write about “inclusivity” in branding and institutions by introducing the concept of “violent innocence.” Now I’m tired. Briefly, “violent innocence” is like Ella Emhoff’s quirky nonbinary art school style. It’s like willfully wanting an institution (a nonprofit, a school, a gallery) or someone (anyone, yourself) to be consistently, coherently good and pure, to be whole, or even just legible, but then our shadow side only becomes all the more repressed and likely to lash out or embrace denial: working on behalf of evil in our blind spots. Violent innocence is not being able to stomach the paradox of harm or unknowing in life, and so consciously or unconsciously perpetuating violence. If Ella wore power suits instead of children’s craft projects would we interrogate her relationship to state power more? Expect her to be more responsible in relation to her station? Violent innocence could be like an AMAB or AFAB person who doesn’t want to be a “bad man” or a “basic bitch” adopting a nonbinary identity in the hopes that the label will absolve them of the toxic masculinity and internalized misogyny we’ve all ingested and need to deconstruct in ourselves and our institutions. All the while the AMAB NB, still reading and moving like a man in a man’s world continues to reap those benefits, while the AFAB NB continues to undermine their own power as they’ve been brainwashed to. If I am not constantly checking myself for a will to dominate or comply with dominator culture, dominator culture being anorm in a world I am trying to thrive in, of course, I will do harm that I will regret. And I have. This is not a claim to perfection, just a striving for honesty. If we could accept the paradoxes (that some call hypocrisies) that people seem to be born into, instead of demanding good/bad binary logic from one another, couldn’t collective action, great art, and great love manifest with less harm and more quickly? Violent innocence could also be the most heartfelt intention for “inclusivity,” also known as diversity, but using all our energy to affect that on a representational level, we continue to let big money, property, technology, and the law accumulate in the same hands. Look at who owns Louis Vuitton, and Instagram. A facile argument, but I’m just one person—listening.

SoiL Thornton, POC sock and lock on sculpture in the West Village at the New York Biennale 2020, organized by Dean Kissick. Photo by the author.

The best work of art that to me feels like a response to “inclusivity” as a trend in art and fashion is SoiL Thornton’s ambiguous Who’s teaching to hang dry? (All rights and 1 left, intro to seven deadly sins) exhibited at Altman Siegel in San Francisco last fall. In this wall work, seven designer garment hangers (there’s Vivienne Westwood, Alexander McQueen, Prada…) rest on seven screws. On each hanger is an emergency orange thermal cycling boot[11] ie from the Swedish sport company POC. The brand name POC is very visible, resonating as “person of color” in the contemporary. (The other day I was walking with a friend and we saw three letter balloons blowing in the wind. I thought they said G-O-D. My friend thought they said C-O-P. Turns out they said P-O-C, which is C-O-P backwards. I’m surprised I haven’t seen a meme of that yet.) The way the flashy POC cycling boots hang off the high-end hangers in SoiL’s piece is awkward, making for asymmetries, imbalanced weight. Ghosts of feet in the form of boots stand on the fiction of shoulders on hangers.

SoiL is a friend. I won’t pretend.

I’m a firm believer in nepotism when it comes to one’s chosen family.


Intentionality

From the onset of lockdown pandemic to now, I’ve been afraid that artist Pippa Garner would die. She will turn 79 this year and has cancer, leukemia again, from suspected Agent Orange exposure. Pippa lives to work out at the gym, make sculptures by hand, and to ride her custom pedal vehicles in the streets even though she is legally blind. Her solitary life is already dangerous. All last year, friends of Pippa and I have circled around her, checking in with a consistency that feels like a spell: S-T-A-Y.

“I’d be more beautiful,” one of her early shirts reads. “But I ran out of money.”

«Pippa Garner with Human Prototype»
Photo courtesy of the author.

Three people I loved who I did not expect to go died last year. It’s always like this: You’re warding off danger from one direction and something hits you from behind. Pippa’s sense of humor in the face of death and daily pain is a buoy I know I will cling to at my end. Unable to work consistently on the complex sculptures she is used to (a backwards car, inflatables, electronic gadgets), due to her eyes and cancer, when in windows of clarity, Pippa makes t-shirts. She affixes found letters and images to used t-shirts. Her slogans are hilarious, topical, and existential. Since influencer and DIY-brand tees have become the new band tees or entrance fees—a means to make ends meet or milk clout—Pippa’s use of the medium feels prophetic (her art shirts are sustainable at least). But Pippa has always been a prophet. Before the Kardashian beauty industrial complex and before Paul Preciado’s Testo Junkie, Pippa was lying to navigate the psych medical system, buying surgeries abroad, and reflecting, in 1995, on her MTF transition, which began with black market hormones in the mid-80s: “The concept of sex-change as a form of consumer technology began to intrigue me.”

“I’d be more beautiful,” one of her early shirts reads. “But I ran out of money.”

Pippa says she wants to live “a couple more years” to see how this pandemic thing “pans out.” Always the comedian, selling herself short. I’m praying for another decade with Pippa Garner, who has so much to teach us. And more work to make.

In a portrait of Pippa taken earlier this year by artist-photographer Reynaldo Rivera in Downtown LA’s bargain shopping Santee Alley, Pippa wears a facemask with toy puke showering from Rolling Stone lips and a t-shirt that reads

These Are My Remains

The Run-Up
(In)dependence
Art
Fashion
In and Out
Maggie Lee
Pippa Garner
POC
Quilted
Sean Tatol
TikTok
Walking While Trans