Professor Alistair O'Neill

Fashion History and Theory, Central Saint Martins, University of the Arts London

'Shiny, Shiny': Sequins in a Spin

  Because We Must  (1989, d. Charles Atlas).

Because We Must (1989, d. Charles Atlas).

This paper examines the representation of costume designs by Leigh Bowery in two artist films: Because We Must (1989) directed and edited by Charles Atlas, based on the 1987 Michael Clark Company contemporary dance production; and Read Only Memory (1989) directed by John Maybury.

The costumes are based on outfits Bowery first designed to wear for nightclub appearances and all share the application of large sequins as surface decoration. In an interview at the time, Bowery noted: “The reason I use sequins at the moment is because if I cannot cast the light, at least I can reflect it.”

Both artist films make a virtue of the visual charge of the costumes and explore them through the employment of early computer-aided visual effects, such as chroma key (bluescreen), motion blur and pixellation. The intention is to explore the textile, decorative, literary, musical and visual references raised by the artist films as representative of a queer aesthetic established in London in the late 1980s; concerned with surface affects and dissolution. 

It expands from a paper given earlier this year at the conference Kulture des Glanzes (The Culture of Shine), Ruhr-Universität Bochum, Germany, 25-27 October 2017.