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Sweet Birds of Youth

Hedi Slimane talks to Jefferson Hack about his "Sweet Birds of Youth" exhibition.

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Jefferson Hack and Hedi Slimane caught up to talk about Sweet Bird of Youth, a group show of original works by 15 artists curated by the designer.

JH: Why are you staging this group show in Berlin? What role does the city play in your life?
HS: A year ago, I was asked to do a group show, for Arndt and Partners Gallery in Berlin. I hadn't done anything in the city since my exhibition and residency at the Kunstwerke in 2002. I assume Berlin will always be a transitional city for me, something like a free zone. I started to contact some friends after I'd read this novel by Tenessee Williams.

JH: You did a series of images of Berlin for a book of the same title. How has the city changed since then for you?
HS: It has really changed. It seems as if it wouldn't be possible to do these pictures again if I wanted to. It was a transient time. Berlin is a different city now – it's much more predictable.

JH: Are you drawn more to the architecture, the structure of the city, or more to the people, the emotion of a city?
HS: Everything really. The vibrancy of the city is very particular. I guess it's the layers of history, the juxtaposition of diffferent architecture, and the people – who mostly come from other areas of Germany ¬– that create this energy. Everyone here is trying to project or invent their own definition of the city. Berlin is like a playground in perpetual mutation.

JH: What is the connecting thread of the show?
HS: It is rather organic. I already knew most of the artists and most of them are from New York. I actually have another show called Young Americans a week later at Foam Museum in Amsterdam, with portraits about this generation of artists. Sweet Bird of Youth is connected to this show. When I left for America, after Dior, I started this project.

JH: Were all the pieces specially commissioned?
HS: Yes. I was not really interested in curating existing works. It needed to be in progress, and an organic project, something like automatic writing, where you are not quite sure of the ending. It ended up like a pattern, almost like a short novel.

JH: Is any of your own work included?
HS: Yes, mostly like a topography, or something like a syntax. There are some recent photographs and a lot of new pieces, mostly sound installations, and videos.

JH: Sweet Bird of Youth – what is the significance of this title for you?
HS: I was reading the Tenessee Williams's novel a couple of years ago, and was quite taken by the main character, Chance, and his fall from grace. The title intrigued me, and it's clearly a nostalgic take. So, I asked Jon Savage to write the synopsis for the show, and I proposed it to 15 artists.

JH: What is it about youth that captivates you?
HS: It doesn't really, but I have a history of it, both in photography and fashion, it's been there, since I was a teenager. I'm now starting to go through my photo archives, which start in 1985. I just had a show at Ellipse Foundation in Lisbonne, and the curator wanted to show a series on teenage surfers off the coast of Portugal from the late 80s. I took pictures as usual out of boredom, walking up and down the beaches, with a camera in my hand.

JH: Do you consider yourself a voyeur of youth or an appreciator of the work of others when it comes to this subject?
HS: Rather an archivist, than a voyeur. Lately, I've got more satisfaction working on collective projects.

JH: Do you feel emotionally attached to the state of adolescence, and is this nostalgic?
HS: Not particularly, but I assume the show is totally nostalgic, which is precisely the contrary of what I'm normally interested in. It is like a disenchanted fairy tale, a disillusioned fantasy. From Slater Bradley's piece on Michael Jackson, to Terence Koh's ritual space, it is exploring a utopia of freedom, and perpetual conventions, which are beyond archetypal.

JH: Do you wish you were still 16?
HS: Not at all. I had the worst time ever at 16. I was totally autistic, and locked myself in my room. I felt I had a complex because I was skinny – people thought I was sick, and tried to feed me like a goose. It was quite tragic really.

Sweet Bird of Youth is showing at Arndt & Partner
Zimmerstrase 90/91, Berlin
Until August 31.

Young American portraits by Hedi Slimane are on show at Foam
Keizersgracht, 609, Amsterdam
From July 15 until September 12.