A disguised ‘punk feminist’ who introduced fashion to the art world

View of the installation Sylvie Fleury: INCLUDE ME. Courtesy of Pinacoteca Agnelli Turin

Looking at par Balenciaga Knife pumps in the store are quite different from how you look at them in the gallery. For proof, go to Agnelli Art Gallery in Turin – a newly opened art institution located at the top of the former FIAT factory complex – where you will see a pair of desired shoes with spikes that are proudly displayed in a glass case. However, they are not really wearable – they are made of solid nickel-plated bronze. But while in the store you would simply see them as a pair of shoes that you would beg, steal or borrow to grab, here they trigger thoughts about the qualities that evoke that desire and what it’s all about. it would encourage someone to alchemize them in bronze.

The exhibition in which they appear is not what you could reasonably call a fashion exhibition, even if fashion items and ephemerals – magazines, shoe boxes, shopping bags – are highlighted. More precisely, it is INCLUDE MEa new significant review of the work Sylvie Fleurya self-proclaimed “disguised punk feminist” who has used objects, symbols, and images associated with fashion, pop culture, cinema, science fiction, and even the automotive world for more than three decades to expose gender prejudices implicit in the industrialization of desire.

sylvie fleury artwork

While fashion may not be the exclusive responsibility of Sylvie’s work, her fashion-focused pieces – such as a suit for motorcycle runners transformed into chic dresses, or a video installation in which a group of women, including an artist, open fire on Chanel’s iconic 2.55 bag – offer the most direct points approach to her work and its significance. After all, if you’re here and reading this, chances are you’ve longed for an expensive fashion item too – and you’ve also felt a certain despondency because it has over you and your wallet.

Despite the so-called criticisms of fashion that characterize her work, Sylvie is far from a style cynic. When we meet in the airy hall of the Pinacoteca Agnelli, she is dressed from head to toe in Demna Balenciaga and speaks with cheerful nostalgia about Alaia, Jean Paul Gaultier i Mugler looks she wore during the 80s and 90s. In fact, she has even collaborated with brands – though not exactly the way most artists work with brands today. In the mentioned video work, for example, the bags she shot – 22 of them to be precise – were actually given to her by Chanel for specific purposes of creating a work of art.

Below, Sylvie tells us about how, for God’s sake, she managed to get them into it, fashion as an industry where nurturing cravings is far more important than sold items, her brief stay as a beauty editor and what interests her at the moment in fashion.


Sylvie Fleury, Zen and Speed, 2001. Video. Courtesy of the artist.

So Chanel literally sent you 22 bags of 2.55 shoot** ??
** Yes, it was actually a project that took place in 2008 called Mobile Art – Chanel commissioned Zaha Hadid to design a traveling museum that looked a bit like a UFO. The first venue was in Hong Kong, and they commissioned several artists to make pieces for it, so I made this giant Chanel bag lined with faux fur, inside of which was a giant compact. I then, in the mirror of the compact, a movie was played! Anyway, Chanel was very helpful in sending the bags to make it – I don’t know how much they liked the end result, but I think it was great of them to let me do it.

** Sure. It’s also a pretty powerful advertisement, really – you’ll never forget a Chanel bag after seeing someone take a shotgun into one.
** Well, what was funny was that it was more of a fashion than an art event, and some of the people who showed up literally cried asking how someone could ruin these bags. I don’t think they really understood the intent behind it.

** In an inverse way, it reminded me of a recent Instagram phenomenon Russian Chanel clients cut their bags.
** In fact, so many people who knew my film sent me clips of it – but what’s interesting is that my intentions were the opposite. They did it as a declaration of their right to spend!

sylvie fleury artwork

** So, what was your intention with that movie?
** Well, I’ve always been very interested in the mechanisms of desire – how objects evoke desire and how brands create that feeling of longing. These were things that felt really new when I started working in the 90s, when consumerism really accelerated.

** It’s kind of when the creation of desire has become as much – if not more important – as the product itself, right?
** That’s right, that’s what I thought was really interesting. For my first artwork, in fact, I would go shopping and put paper bags – with all the things I bought back inside – in the middle of the gallery space. Of course, I was aware of all the critical interpretations, which are now largely part of the zeitgeist, but I also realized that there is a great contradiction. I mean, I’m from the 60s, and the most exciting thing for Christmas for me was new clothes for my Barbie! As such, I have always been interested in the aura that objects have and the dualistic relationship a woman can have with them. That’s what the film was really about.

The important point you emphasize is the dualistic relationship that many of us have with fashion. It’s pretty common these days to have a critical look at fashion, but that quickly disappears when you see, I don’t know, a couple Prada boots and you only to want them. As for your work, what is interesting is that your comment is not limited to the objects themselves, but also extends to the accessories. Bags and shoe boxes have the same aura as a handbag. Can you tell us something about when you first felt the appeal of fashion? It’s something I’ve actually forgotten about for a long time, but a few years ago I was invited to be part of an exhibition of drawings that artists did as children. So I asked my mom if she hid something somewhere, and she found it. When I was a kid, she read this fashion magazine called French day – it was a bit old-fashioned and bourgeois – but in the end there were these pages that would describe the pictures. It is interesting that I made these drawings that were just that – a model in clothes, and in addition I would write what they wore and who did it.

sylvie fleury artwork

** So you wrote credits as a kid ?!
** Yes! My early work actually had a lot of influence from fashion magazines. Many of my titles are actually slogans you see on the covers. And in fact, I even had a job for a short time Supermarket!!

** How did that come about?
** Basically, in the first days of my career, I smashed a lot of makeup, drove over compact cars and so on. About that time Ezra Petronio [Self Service’s founder] she asked if I wanted to be a beauty editor at a magazine. The next thing I knew I had this FedEx box with a bunch of new cosmetics. I did what I always did, took a box, went to the parking lot, put makeup around the parking lot, and then crossed it with my Buick. Then I took my Polaroid and photographed it all – and it was my first beauty story! And then there was a time when an Italian magazine, friend, extended his hand. They asked me to photograph the shoe story and sent me boxes and shoe boxes. As you can see from my work, I also love cars, so I just found a model and asked her to press the pedal of these mythical sports cars. And I made a lot of videos like that Gucci Satellitewhich is a close-up of a Plymouth Satellite pedal with a Gucci mule from Tom Ford’s era that presses it.

** Do you still have a favorite fashion magazine?
** Well, iD it was actually a magazine I read a lot! But now I read almost every fashion magazine while traveling – usually what looks best on the stand. I really judge by the cover!

9.1_Sylvie Fleury_Ipali me_She devils on wheels__Credit Installation overview Pinacoteca Agnelli Torino.jpg

** You talked about your work with fashion items and paintings, but how does your perception of them change when you put them in a gallery space? How is it different from seeing them in, say, a shop or a magazine?
** This is exactly what I have always been interested in – a fashion object, a special attitude of each viewer towards it and how decontextualization changes that. The same goes for fashion magazines – in fact, there was a piece I was working on called Current Issues, where I would go to the kiosk and buy all the fashion magazines from, say, September 1997, and then take all the photos and exhibit the pictures. People would always think I changed something, but I didn’t. I guess the thing is, people see these pictures everywhere, but they really aren’t I’m looking for in that. We are so bombarded with many images that only when you have the luxury of bringing certain objects into a quieter environment, do you really perceive them. These things develop meaning, and then it’s about putting next to something else to create a connection between things that should never have been connected.

** As a consumer, what interests you in fashion today?
** I’m always interested in a great piece, but I can’t say I have a concrete answer to that. I’m still curious about it and watching things. I love discovering a new, young designer who I think is doing interesting things. Ottolinger, Wales Bonner or many other names that do not currently come to mind. I will often try to opt for a lesser known name … but then for a few days I will just want to be dressed from head to toe in Balenciaga!

sylvie fleury artwork

Sylvie Fleury: INCLUDE ME in Pinacoteca Agnelli, Turin until January 15, 2023. Follow iD on TikTok i Instagram for more art.


All pictures courtesy of Pinacoteca Agnelli Torino

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