Art Comes First: Hussein Chalayan

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Published April 23, 2010

HUSSEIN CHALAYAN, THE ABSENT PRESENCE, II, 2005.
COURTESY GABRIELLE AMMANN

Hussein Chalayan is an artist. He’s also the Turkish-Cypriote designer who is fashion’s de facto boundary-breaker (especially as we’ve lost Alexander McQueen’s imaginative, performative presence). For his Spring 2009 collection, Chalayan made molded-latex dresses frozen in motion to portray dynamic movement. His last collection was one of the most fulfilling and earnest meditations on Americana clothing done by a non-American. And there is his video collaboration with Tilda Swinton, in which he showcased his considerable video and photography skills, as well. Sure, other designers may do a print or two for charity, but gallerist Gabrielle Ammann puts this man’s various aptitudes best: “Chalayan is a multi-talent. He could have become an artist or an architect, from my point of view… or even a philosopher.”

Ammann’s eponymous gallery in Cologne hosts the works, in combination with other medium-mixers Zaha Hadid and Florian Borkenhagen. Hadid is literally a designer, creating anything from buildings to couches to Puma running shoes. Borkenhagen, on the other hand, works with furniture and space, but as an artist, using and reconfiguring objects as art pieces. Amman’s show is titled “beyond (limit)ations,” and it tackles exactly the permeable spaces each of these artists occupy. Chalayan’s videos features shape-shifter Tilda Swinton as a performance artist in his 2005 video The Absent Presence. For Aeroplane Dress, (2001) fashion is treated as utilitarian and then as artistic, as a dress transforms into a plastic airplane (the designer once wanted to be a pilot). And in his meditation on transience and immigration, Chayalan tackles leaving home in 2000’s Afterwords –a theme that ties to Borkenhagen’s own work.

The show’s coinciding with the Cologne Furniture Fair is no mistake, as Ammann is aiming cross design disciplines with gallery culture (he’s hauling in major design cred by featuring Hadid). Yet, Chalayan is no stranger to mixing mediums. He may be the only individual in the world whose creations have appeared inside FIT and at Paris Fashion week, at the Victoria and Albert Design Museum and inside the Tate Modern and Louvre. A solid resume for a fashion designer, that is, if one were to give him such a one-dimensional title.

BEYOND LIMITATIONS IS ON VIEW THROUGH JUNE 25. GABRIELLE AMMANN IS LOCATED AT TEUTOBERGER STR. 27, COLOGNE