a new memento mori

I suppose it was inevitable, with this spate of fashion musings, that my attention would return to a topic I ineffectually tried to tackle--what 8? 9?-- years ago. It was after the much- editorialized "Heroin Chic." Prada had a stunning print campaign that I found so beautiful, so ...curious. (An image from the campaign, below left, by Glen Luchford) Why were dead women being used to sell designer clothing? Pornography, sure, bondage, ok, even kiddie porn (though Calvin Klein didn't get too far with that before it was pulled) but corpses? How, exactly, was that resonating with The Public? Fashion editorials that had formerly exuded an air of cultivated boredom were giving off more than a whiff of decay. Could it be that Sex had played itself out? Was Death simply the only (tittilating) thing left? Was there anything more to it? It struck me that a photography show I'd seen several years earlier, Andres Serrano's Morgue series (Aids-related Death II, 1992, below right) was, in hindsight, proving to be enormously influential. Or perhaps just ahead of the curve of what theorist Mark Dery came to call the "New Grotesque"...

And now years later, post-Damien Hirst formaldehyde fetishes, post-"Six Feet Under" we still have the same tortured relationship with that all too earth-bound, all too real body. We've decoded it, sliced it, stripped it of skin and put it on display. Suctioned, cut, capped, injected, pulled and polished "we" grow almost inert under growing mantles of flesh and have anorexia scares on the runways. The past century has been about the defiance of death through science, medicine and lifestyle, yet it appears that the more we negate death, the more we're preoccupied with it. Like any neurosis, it pops up in the most intriguing places.

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