Ever the agent provocateur, Gucci’s Creative Director Alessandro Michele has always challenged the social norms of genres and gender while addressing the urgency of self-expression within the context of fashion. This is, after all, the man who sent models dressed in straitjackets down his spring/ summer 2020 runway, and transformed Hollywood’s glitterati such as Jared Leto and Harry Styles into dandified magpies. Propelled by Michele’s visions, writer and curator Myriam Ben Salah explores Gucci’s “No Space, Just a Place. Eterotopia” art exhibition is held from 17 April to 12 July at Daelim Museum, Jongno-gu, Seoul, South Korea. Visit nospacejustaplace.gucci.com for details. the inner workings of the House’s diverse vocabulary through an alternative lens, reimagined as a utopian space of magical realism. Here, she reveals her ideas and themes behind this “other space”, an heterotopia brought to life through a cross-continental dialogue of five artists at the iconic Daelim Museum in Seoul.
How is the Daelim Museum an alternative space?
Every museum can be considered an alternative space as it is a room isolated from the rest of society, where the rules are different. For instance, an object that I see inside the museum takes on a different meaning than the same object outside of the museum. This allows for alternative thinking, as the viewer is confronted with new modes of relating to the world, society, politics and aesthetics.
What is magical realism to you?
It’s a depiction of our everyday life through art (painting, film, literature), with a touch of eeriness and magical elements that are small enough to not break the viewer’s suspension of disbelief. Very often, it allows for a soft critique of socio-political environments through fiction.
Why is a utopian space necessary in this age?
Through social media, it seems like anyone could be anywhere, any time—at least, in the world as we know it up until recently. This potential ubiquity undermines the capacity of thinking “outside the box” as it fosters a type of uniformity. A metaphorical utopian space, that is to say, a space that is separated from all the areas that we know, is necessary to form new types of thoughts, new relationships among humans and towards the Earth.
Why were these themes chosen for this exhibition?
The idea of focusing on the alternative space came from my first visit to Seoul. Meeting artists, curators and cultural producers, it was clear that there was a thriving scene of independent art spaces that promote work that is politically engaging, experimental and more concerned with artistic debates than commercial viability. I had the pleasure of meeting artist and curator InYoung Yeo, who was key to making me realise the importance of these structures within the local and international art ecosystem. Working with these spaces also allowed me to think about a wider and more metaphorical definition of an alternative space. At a time where perspectives on the future are slightly dark, it seems crucial to consider new spaces (physical and mental) for building alternative narratives.
How has art contributed to understanding queer politics and why is this important for Gucci?
Art has the ability to create a point of friction between avant-garde ideas and mainstream distribution. In this sense, art is always one step ahead in terms of social progress or political thinking; it has the ability to co-opt ideas that are perceived as “marginal” and to bring them into public consciousness. Queer theory emerged in the early ’90s against a heteronormative background, where art and literature supported the passage of queer thinking from the theoretical realm to collective consciousness. I think this is important for Gucci and for Alessandro Michele in particular, because his work is an exercise of resistance to the norm as well as an attempt to question pre-existing structures.
How was this exploration of avant-garde ideas translated in this exhibition?
In the exhibition, the subject is explored through more oblique depictions of what a minority can be. Artistic interventions playfully question the narrow perspectives of normative dominant discourses. One of five artists exhibiting, Kang Seung Lee, for instance, takes a direct approach, challenging biased art historical canons and academic institutions that result in the historical erasure of queer people in South Korea.