This weekend ended the Parisian art fair entitled Art Paris. I regularly attend art fairs in order to discover new artists and also take note of the trends of the art market. As I passed by the De Buck Gallery’s space, I was attracted by a hanging shirt splattered with paint. The art work was by Shozo Shimamoto, a Japanase artist – who died in 2013 – who had participated to the foundation of the Gutai movement, an eastern answer to the American post-war action painting. Shozo Shimamoto specialized, from the 1950s, in the making of art pieces via the elaboration of dynamic performances. During his performances, the artist would throw paint entrapped in various containers that would thus explose once they had hit their targets, most often a simple canvas. The performance would therefore lead to three art moments: the performance itself, the canvas and all the collateral damages – adjacent objects splattered by paint.
Shozo Shimamoto not only produced paintings but also invited trivial reminders of his performances, that from minor witnesses would later become major art works as soon as the artist decided to isolate them, sign them and enclose them within a frame. I must admit I have found very little information about the artist and his performances. All I did discover is that the different painted clothing signed by the artist and that can be found today in various collections are the result of a performance entitled Felissimo as it was commissioned by the Japanese brand bearing the same name and took place at the Kobe Fashion Museum in 2007. The Felissimo performance is one of the rare artistic moments in the artist’s existence that had something to do with fashion. Yet fashion here did not serve a purpose nor a discourse, the white clothes used during this performance were simply an innovative canvas, the means of a transformation. The whole performance engaged with sound and action, there’s something very chaotic and almost violent in the way the painting containers are hit and thrown towards the floor below and when we observe the splattered clothes, we can’t help but think of them as victims stained by watercolor that evokes blood. Like all the objects found within his performances, Shozo Shimamoto turned the pieces of clothing into unique art works. The shirt I saw at the fair is signed and numbered and hangs within a glass case: fashion and art closely mingled.
The Felissimo art works instantly recalled two further artistic projects. First, I could not help but look back at Alexander McQueen‘s 1999 Spring-Summer show and Shalom Harlow’s encounter with mechanical robots that sprayed paint on her immaculate dress. I don’t know whether Shozo Shimamoto had this peculiar moment in mind when he organized his own performance but to me there’s something similar in the violence of the action. The main difference yet resides in the fact that when Alexander McQueen used inorganic machines to ‘attack’ a human being, Shozo Shimamoto invited humans to assail inanimate objects.
Finally, examining the framed shirt, I was reminded of François Aubert’s iconic photography from 1867. The French photographer created a historical and artistic momentum when he photographed the shirt of the Emperor Maximilien that had just been executed in Mexico. Without depicting the execution itself and with this stained shirt pierced by bullets, the photographer evoked a macabre shroud and turned the intimate piece of clothing of a man into the abstract symbol of death. Within Shozo Shimamoto, I found that similar morbid feel and the process of turning something trivial into a more grandiose concept. When clothing is seized by contemporary art, it often takes on disturbing feelings as if the inanimate garment, separated from flesh and movement, comes too close to death and sorrow. That is why there lies the whole challenge for fashion curators who need to bring life to their motionless objects..
I would love to hear about your opinion on that subject and if any of you have further information concerning Shozo Shimamoto’s work and the Felissimo performance, I would love to read about it.
You can watch the performance, here.