There has always been an explosive energy about everything that Chicks on Speed have done ñ from their initial club nights, to their many recordings, fashion and technological designs, visual art, publishing and performance projects.
Formed in Munich in 1997, where the American Melissa Logan and Australian Alex Murray-Leslie were students (painting and jewellery-making respectively), their work has always blurred any generic boundaries between forms. It’s a Project, the Chicks’ 2004 publication included a book, a bag, a length of cloth to sew your own dress, a CD and a pair of paper overalls.
The group are, says Logan, ‘a clan’ that has expanded to bring in collaborators, such as New York feminist artist AL Steiner; London-based Israeli performer Anat Ben-David; Estonian choreographer Krııt Juurak; and Spanish electronic artist Merche Blasco. Fashion designer Jeremy Scott, visual artist Douglas Gordon, punk trio Le Tigre and the B52s too have all worked with the Chicks on various projects.
The glorious thing about their latest project Don’t Art, Fashion, Music is that it makes a coherent whole of what they do. Take artist Lucy Orta’s clothing sculptures ñ jackets that turn into sheltering tents, coats that zip and join onto other people’s clothing ñ or Ernesto Neto’s strange and organic gallery installations. This is art that emphasizes the social but also understands and reacts against its art-historical context.
When the Chicks on Speed convened at Dundee Contemporary Arts recently to launch Don’t Art, Fashion, Music, one of the most striking components was a Shetland weaver working in the gallery’s main space. This was Morwenna Garrick and she was weaving a woollen fabric featuring a loudspeaker motif. The two core Chicks, Logan and Murray-Leslie, had formulated the pattern in a way that looked both backwards ñ to the designs of the Weiner Werkst‰tte and Bauhaus ñ and forwards, in terms of hi-fi technology. But they had not neglected the present. The weaver’s 19th-century wooden loom clattered with a lively noise ñ indeed, during the Chicks on Speed’s opening night performance the loom was wired for sound.
‘The weaving is going to grow and grow and take over the space,’ Murray-Leslie says. ‘It subverts the idea of women’s industry in a cottage. We like the idea of it flooding out and becoming visible.’ She mentions how, in many revolutionary art studios ñ the Bauhaus, the Dadaists and surrealists ñ women’s work was either not taken seriously, or relegated to the ‘traditional’ craft areas.
Logan points out the equivalence between the loom and the computer: both are programmed to produce a result, and the slippage of ‘female’ craft and ‘male’ technology is achieved in a neatly radical move. This is a theme that the Chicks return to over and over in their dizzying series of objekt-instruments that combine low- and high-tech with deft sleight of hand: a hat with concealed mics; cigar-box synthesizers; and, most recently, wireless guitar shoes, with heels so high that the Chicks have to move cautiously across the stage in them.
For those who missed the Dundee show, never fear: its future existence is guaranteed in a book out this month, Don’t Art, Fashion, Music, which, whatever else it is, will be a blueprint for its readers to get active.
Don’t Art, Fashion, Music by Chicks on Speed is published by Booth-Clibborn Editions in October 2010. www.chicksonspeed.com
Chicks on Speed are also exhibiting at the Kate Macgarry Gallery, London, 25 November 2010-16 January 2011. www.katemacgarry.com
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