The Feeling of the Fake: Antonio Syxty's Fashion Works in 1980s Milan

By Pitrolo, Flora | About Performance, January 1, 2018 | Go to article overview

The Feeling of the Fake: Antonio Syxty's Fashion Works in 1980s Milan


Pitrolo, Flora, About Performance


Slumped in a prototype of designer Alessandro Mendini's Proust Armchair, the young Olivia Gozzano looks melancholy and bored. Her elbow sunk into the armrest, her hand held moodily against her cheek, she is staring from underneath the blonde curtain of her fringe at the red Mary Janes dangling on her feet. Folded up in the huge armchair, the Krizia dress she is wearing appears as a puff of red ruffles carefully pleated like fans, bordered with a silky black rim that catches two diagonal stripes of light illuminating Gozzano from top left. Further down the page, Hilary Clark stares straight into the camera with an air of confrontation, seated on the edge ofMendini's redesign of Gerrit Rietveld's Zig-Zag Chair, which substitutes the back of the chair with a cross. The background is a bright electric blue, her left ankle crosses her right knee, and the thick tubular sleeves on her dress alter the shape of her body, like armour (see fig. 1). Over the page, Nadia Mariani has climbed up the stairs leading up to Mendini's Monumentino da Casa. Kneeling on the chair, holding on to its back, the black drapes of her dress and the blonde drapes of her hair flow towards the left as if following her sideways gaze, as if eyes, hair, and materials were all suspended, looking at something behind her. The image is soaked in an ovoid light, half red, half blue.

I am looking at a double-spread in a 1983 issue of the Italian theatre magazine Sipario, but it may as well be Vogue. The title, towering over the first page in big white lettering, reads II Teatro Glamour di Antonio Syxty (Antonio Syxty's Glamour Theatre). Unlike the pictures we are used to confronting as scholars of performance-what O'Dell (1997) calls "flickerings" that cause the historian to shuttle back and forth between that which is seen and that which has to be imagined, troubled and troubling access points to a performance's past reality-the photographs I am looking at, from Antonio Syxty's production Famiglia Horror (Horror Family), appear to be perfectly self-contained and self-fulfilling. They do not seem to bear reference to any kind of originary event. Instead, they end here, on the glossy page, where I take them for what they are and for what they show-and what they show, one might venture, is that which is seen and that which has to be imagined at the same time.

Antonio Syxty began working in performance with some early experiments of a loosely actionist nature between 1978 and 1979 before embarking on a cycle of works that took as their principal material the visual world of an imported Americana, from cartoons, comic strips, and the imagery of pop art to what he called the "American tragedy" of the Kennedy assassination (Syxty 1980c, n.p). In May 1980, he presented a piece called Eloise, Vento Leggero, Eloise (Eloise, Soft Breeze, Eloise) which for the first time engaged with the fashion image on stage. Between Eloise and Famiglia Horror, first shown in late 1982, Syxty's works gradually replaced the apparatus of performance with that of fashion: actors were replaced by models; scripts by mood-boards; dialogue by voiceovers or interviews; costumes by designer clothing; sets by designer furniture; dramaturgy by "synthesis" (Syxty in Ponte di Pino 1988, n.p.). Collaborations occurred between Syxty and some of the rising stars of Italian fashion brands, such as Krizia, Enrico Coveri, and icon of postmodern fashion Cinzia Ruggeri. Having worked as a model throughout this period, by 1983 Syxty was working behind the camera, as a director and stylist on catwalks, shoots, and music videos.

This article considers Syxty's performances between 1980 and 1982, concentrating on his utilisation of the visual codes and representative modes pertaining to the fashion industry in underground performance. While Syxty's double-life as model and performer shadows my discussion, I am interested less in the collision of creative professionalisms, which has been explored elsewhere (see Gindt and Potvin 2013), and more in the consequences of such collisions-that is, in the representational inquiry and political gesture inherent in Syxty's will to make the image on stage interfere and ultimately coincide with the image as it was conceptualised, constructed, and deployed in fashion. …

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