defining the times

What is style in the Nineties? It's bold, it's British and a new exhibition aims to capture its essence. Melanie Rickey reports
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Indy Lifestyle Online
As you walk into Jam you are confronted by a blown-up image of model Kristen McMenamy in the nude, the legend "Versace" written in lipstick across her chest. It was originally shot by Juergen Teller, for German magazine Sud Deutsche Zeitung, and caused a furore when it came out in April. At Jam it looks at home. Perhaps McMenamy's haughty stare is a warning to leave your preconceptions at the door.

Jam opened at the Barbican Art Gallery on 12 September. Most art exhibitions are retrospective, so be prepared to open your eyes: Jam is an exhibition about now. It aims to create a snap-shot of the moment by fusing the mediums of fashion design, multi-media, photography, music and graphic design into an interactive space. This ultimate Nineties moment has been a long time coming: for some it has taken six years to get over the Eighties; others are just beginning to realise their potential.

In the Eighties "a happening moment" was deemed worthy if there was big money or sponsorship behind it. In contrast, says Beverley Luckings, one of the organisers, "Living in the Nineties is about doing it and not just talking about it." Judging from the diversity of talent on display, the people involved with Jam are doing it, and very well.

Going around the exhibition is reminiscent of a school trip to the Science Museum: there are buttons to press, peepholes to look through, and earphones to listen to. But instead of looking through a peephole to see what a man would look like with no bones, you see 3-D images of night-club moments at the Blue Note or Strawberry Sundae. Instead of a voice telling you about the first man in space, you hear Tricky, or the music played at Hussein Chalayan's catwalk show.

Photographs have been supplied by the likes of David Sims (fashion photographer of the year), Phil Knott, Mark Borthwick, Donald Milne and Rankin. The books are magazines like Blow, A Be Sea, Dazed and Confused, and I-D, which you can read while having a nice cup of coffee. There are catwalk shows to watch. Alexander McQueen has a room especially to show his in: you can look at his Spitalfields show from last season from different angles at the press of a button. There are also lots of interactive computer games, and a machine where you can re-style yourself. In short, Jam is a cultural playground for grown ups.

Jane Alison is the curator. She spent eight months working on it, and was elated on its opening night to find that it had finally come together. "I had always wanted to do something contemporary at the Barbican that bound music, style and fashion together. We didn't want it to be academic, just to create a buzz." So Alison contacted James Pretlove at Blow magazine and Rankin at Dazed & Confused. They all worked to involve people who would represent the moment. "I have no preconceived ideas about what is cool," Alison explains, "so as a team we looked at everyone on their merits, and involved people we felt had the right attitude." Pretlove's main aim was to help create something that could be fully appreciated by all. "We just wanted to present this culture as it is," he says.

Tom Dixon has designed the entire space, so it is a minimalist's dream, with MDF panelling that incorporates a false skateboarding ramp, hidden side rooms, and even the little cafe area, with coffee supplied by Islington's Crowbar, complete with MDF cubes to sit on.

The thing about Jam is that you have to get involved with it. Some visitors may be interested in the graphic video installations in Anti-Roms's nine- screen video room. Others may be there to check out the computer generated art by Buggy G Riphead, with its minute attention to detail, or the array of "Sleeve Art" - the point where fashion, graphics, music and art collide. There are some wonderful photographic images on show, like Donald Milne's "Girls Going Out" project. He photographed girls aged from 16-23 in their homes just before a night out. The pictures show a hint of the night to come, "I wanted to do something simple and honest," he says, "but it did occur to me that the 16-23 age group is the one most commonly represented in fashion magazines. It's interesting to see them as their real selves." Phil Knott photographed black musicians in an attempt to show the level of their contribution to today's music scene. He hopes it will inspire the youth into action. As he says: "Who knows, maybe in five years it will be their turn."

8 Jam is at the Barbican Art Gallery, Barbican Centre, London EC2, to 15 December. Opens 10am-6.45pm Mon-Sat, 12noon-6.45pm Sunday; pounds 4.50, pounds 2.50 concessions.

WHAT IS NINETIES STYLE?

Rankin, Editor, Dazed & Confused: "1990s style is influenced by clubs and drug culture, which has helped to break down barriers. Everyone borrows from each other. There's a sociability to it all, a mutual respect."

Liz Farrelly, journalist and book editor: "1990s culture is all about global ecleticism. It's about being able to tap into diverse cultures and aesthetics from Southern India to California. It's not unusual for someone to open shops in Milan and then design ads in Hollywood. People don't stick to one career."

Zoe Souter, Fashion Bookings Editor, Vogue: "The 1980s was about materialism. The 1990s is all about individuality, personality and spirit. People are becoming spiritual."

Richard Benson, Editor, The Face: "The 1990s has seen the appropriation of trash and kitsch. There has been the selective taking from low culture by the arts world. There's also been a dressing down which is very aware of the signifiers in fashion."

Garth Meyer, photographer: "There are no boundaries; we've all become editors of time."

Anthony Warren, art director, Bosworth Field: "1990s culture is about ecleticism and football, where fine art is fashion. Damien Hirst the self publicist is a product of the collision between art, fashion, music and media."

(Damien Hirst was asked for his definition of 1990s style. Unfortunately, he was too busy in Florence, where he is exhibiting with Prada, to live music courtesy of Jarvis Cocker. Sums it up, really.)

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