Bernadette Corporation, 2000 Wasted Years, ICA, London


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The Independent Culture

“I had never been cool. I liked the same music as my mother,” writes an anonymous member of Bernadette Corporation, the New York artists’ collective, founded in the early 90s, whose oeuvre spans fashion, literature, film, and installation.

The author of this origin myth is most likely Bernadette Van-Huy, but individual identities are obscured. She discovered her “element” when she moved to Manhattan at the age of 23 and began to organize parties with her friends: “We thought of McLaren, Westwood, and Warhol as our parents... Mostly, we try to realise a fiction that we prefer to reality.”

As the name suggests, Bernadette Corporation plays with ideas of commerce and subversion. Over the last twenty years, it has pursued authentic business ventures while using avant garde tactics to undermine its own brand. This first UK retrospective is both maddening and fun.

Mannequins are positioned throughout the exhibition, wearing “reconstructed” outfits from the corporation’s fashion line, launched in the mid-90s. One wears a “pink nylon bustier dress” with a “black mesh capelet.” The latter is a mini cape, which channels both vampiric nurse and fallen nun.  

“BC” – the corporation’s logo – was part of the 90s cross-over culture that married high fashion with art. It seems unclear whether their bid to subvert consumerism from within is simply another way to be cool. This is post-post-modern: pastiche and fragmentation but with a nod to political seriousness.

The 2003 film Get Rid of Yourself, a response to both the G8 Genoa protests and 9/11, is condensed here into a parody of a block-buster movie trailer. Shots of Chloe Sevigny, the poster-girl for washed-out 90s “whatever” subjectivity, are spliced with shots of bleeding protestors. Sevigny is smoking a cigarette, blasé. The soundtrack is thunderously melodramatic, and serves to shatter any hope of sustained concentration.

This is not a retrospective in any conventional sense because everything has been made anew. The black, slick, hard structure that houses the corporation’s various projects is site-specific; it is designed to feel like an airport in which incitements to buy collide with jarring music and discordant lighting. The desired effect is achieved; it is difficult to stand inside it for too long.

More mannequins upstairs bear testament to the D.I.Y trash look of sex-shop meets sportswear meets punk… references abound to the extent that all are cancelled out. This is an everything and nothing aesthetic, which wants it all ways.

27 March – 9 June