I have spent the first few months of 2017 laying low.
I stand fixated by a self-inflicted crossroads, where the destination couldn’t be clearer but, of course, we must consider the alternatives. For almost seven years, I’ve primarily populated this space with expressions of my visual escapism, increasingly accessorised with isolated outbursts on issues of race and youth (and youth and youth and youth) and the media. And yet, surely, there are only so many opinions an individual can have – derived from their immediate anecdotal injustices and transient social rage. How does one evolve a platform that has only one voice?
I wouldn’t say that I’ve avoided contentious realms of conversation altogether – far from it. But there has always been a solid portfolio of topics left untouched, with the lame justification that I just wasn’t well enough informed to cover all bases. It’s a can of worms, I’d say. Until I realised that it wasn’t.
In the face of damned if you do, damned if you don’t: do something and be damned, goddamnit. There is nothing more deplorable (if you’ll allow me that one) than deliberate indifference: “I can’t even read the news right now because it stresses me out” or “I’m not qualified to have an opinion”. Acknowledging that there exists this ideological rift in the way people feel about the greatest social, ethical and economic questions of our generation, is not (and I repeat, is not) synonymous with blind acceptance of that difference.
Of course, acting on this understanding remains a minefield. To brand oneself an ‘activist’ by way of emoji-ridden Instagram bio or carefully choreographed photographic and hashtag evidence of participation, seems to bastardise a renaissance of last century’s truly impassioned and organised drivers of change. And yet, perhaps such “slacktivism” and its uncomfortable overtones of ignorance must be tolerated in the name of progress. It is a legitimate argument that these exhibitionists are at least generating awareness for a cause that will captivate a curious few – if #prayforaleppo is what it takes to draw attention to
longstanding political unrest and deficient policy (and even some limited funding for imminent humanitarian aid) then so be it.
Over fashion month, now stumbling through its final week of uncertainty in dreary Paris, I’ve observed designers and publications and miscellaneous fashion folk flounder with this disparate new-age activism. On the one hand, fashion is escapism. c is intended to transport you to a poetic wonderland of heritage and meticulous detail. Meanwhile, the immediate industry harbours brands and corporations that are equal parts risk averse and desperate to engage with the fabled millennial on a meaningful level – which, at this moment in time, is a heavily political one. The end goal – bolstering the collective consciousness against regressive outliers masquerading as agents of change – can feel clouded by commercial gains and social currency.
On a spectrum of misspelt girl power t-shirts to reinterpreting working class uniforms as true icons of a more hopeful America, fashion has had varying degrees of success in speaking directly to its target demographic with provocative offerings of some cognitive common ground.
That figurative common ground is the premise of this short film and accompanying stills story. A group of women: all of whom have carved out their own unconventional careers; all highly educated, not necessarily in the sense of Ivy League fanfare (though that is present), but in the sense of ongoing self-education and forced awareness to validate their outspokenness – however that might manifest. This is in response to the countless conversations I have had with creative peers who are paralysed in their attempts to reconcile A) a social obligation to use their profile for broadcasting information and opinions on current affairs; B) the fact that the fruits
of our industries are perceived as capitalist luxury and excess; and C) an apprehension at being labelled a slacktivist – the same aforementioned dilemma of escapism vs. substantive debate.
Por que no los dos? The fact of a crowded restaurant filling with assertive women eating dumplings in couture is a very deliberately unreal scenario. You could choose to stop at the stills – the smoky juxtaposition of highest fashion and garish underground grit – but you’d be missing the point. Even beyond the 3:30 minutes of film that I know to be the limits of our digital attention span, there’s more. Each individual has infinitely more (5 hours of raw footage more) to say about their respective fields of knowledge and interest. This is a fleeting visual representation of the open dialogue that should be allowed without condemnation. There is an implicit recognition that those who disagree with you are not categorically evil and malicious. It is an allied attitude – transplanting an entire school of
thought from Rive Gauche philosophers assembling at Café de Flore to modern day heroines telling us what’s what in downtown Manhattan.
And so we find ourselves back at my opening statement: I have spent the first few months of 2017 laying low – watching the world have a violently sobering allergic awakening in slow motion, to dysfunctions and discriminations that have in fact been corroding the system beneath a shroud of political correctness for decades.
Watch this space.
directed & photographed by Margaret Zhang
produced by Samantha Bennetts
cinematography by Daisy Zhou