The two try to answer the question: what are we fighting for?
“You pass the crystal wine glasses, and the wine, and the Mont Blanc pens, and voila. You are here,” Michèle Lamy says, as she gestures around the basement of London department store Selfridges. “It’s not what you expect, is it?” she says, as she throws her head back and laughs, the light bouncing off her signature gold grills. She’s referring to BXR, the boxing gym she opened earlier this month, and it’s safe to say that no, the heavy black curtains and the soundtrack that’s pounding out from behind them (on our arrival, a track by IAMDDB) aren’t exactly what Mont Blanc shoppers might have expected to be confronted with as they pick out their £20k pens. But then, this is Michèle Lamy: we’ve come to learn to expect the unexpected from her.
The gym is the second phase of Lamyland, which took over the store’s Corner Shop in January and where Dazed took a crew of South London kids for a boxing class and live performances in the ring. Featuring a curated edit of boxing-related merch: from cashmere gloves and punch bags imagined by Versace and Off-White, to clothing designed by the likes of Gareth Pugh, Craig Green, and (of course), Lamy’s husband, Rick Owens, the pop-up will kit you out for the ring in style. Downstairs though, is no place for poseurs. “It’s the place to put your money where your mouth is,” Lamy tells us, as a line-up of professional athletes have put people through their paces over the course of the last two months.
The space has also provided a base for Lamy while she’s in the capital, as she drops in and out between appointments (and occasionally steps into the ring to spar with unwitting opponents). Visiting today is GAIKA. The two first met at a Raw Power event in London, one that featured installations, soundscapes and visuals that explored xenophobia, white supremacy and racism, and culminated in an electrifying performance from the brooding musician. Lamy was ‘mesmerised’ by the boundary-pushing multi-disciplinary artist, and a friendship followed suit. Both share the same fearless outlook when it comes to challenging what the world presents us with on a day to day basis – whether that’s visually, culturally or socially – and it’s that that they’re here to discuss. Taking the manifesto Lamy laid out when planning her Lamyland takeover and its overarching question of ‘what are we fighting for?’ as their starting point, the pair go head to head – or, as Lamy puts it, tête-à-tête – in the ring.
So we’re here to discuss ‘the fight’ in terms of boxing, the ongoing fight, what it is we’re fighting for and what you think we can do to change things that are happening in the world...but first, can you tell me a bit about how you know each other, how you met, your friendship?
GAIKA: I was working with Gareth Pugh at a Raw Power event last year at Somerset House when I performed in this cage-like structure and, of course, Michèle is friends with Gareth, so we met there. And then one day I got a call...
Michèle Lamy: Yes, so even though we didn’t know each other, I was totally, how you say, seduced or mesmerised....flabbergasted...that’s the word (laughs) by his performance at Somerset House...so that’s why I wanted to do something with GAIKA, I was very impressed. To me it was like...when you surf. The waves take you, and you are riding the wave with him, you know? So that’s the way we met. I Googled him a lot and listened to his music – he’s like Blade Runner multiplied by a thousand. I’m very excited that we are here today to talk about this.
And it feels like you’re both fighting for and against something in your respective work...
Michèle Lamy: Yes. You know, what happened in the school the other day, plus what is happening in Syria, Afghanistan, North Korea... I say we better shut up and do something about it! But you know... what can we do? So this (gestures around boxing ring) is my way to answer the question with action.
GAIKA: There’s so much happening in the world right now that is so terrible that I think that any change that we can make is incremental, like it’s really, really small. But I do feel if you can change people’s minds slightly, like, however much, to make them think about things they maybe haven’t before, and to not accept things at face value, then that will multiply.
Michèle, can you talk a little bit about the boxing pop-up and how it came to be?
Michèle Lamy: My friend Sebastian Manes from Selfridges asked me to do something in the store in the old Wonder Room space. I presented the boxing idea, he loved it and took it to the directors. Then they asked me to do something bigger in their new space, The Corner Shop.
I always want to explore ‘radical luxury’ – I mean, I like radical more than I like luxury, and it’s very nice to be able to combine art and the commercial, but it’s one thing to say something, but you need to demonstrate it with the theme. And so we have the collection upstairs and this here (the boxing studio). I knew that the theme was going to be like...who are you, what do you stand for? What are you, or rather, what are we fighting for? And I wanted also to make the boxing gym quite New York, with the art references and with all the pictures on the wall here. It has a kind of CBGB spirit, and it’s loud and there are lots of different people from everywhere and we’ve had parties and rap battles and so on. So voila.
Talking more about the theme of ‘what are we fighting for?’ and the whole idea of the boxing ring. Tell me what it is you’re fighting for or against?
GAIKA: For me it’s about equality, it’s about honesty. It’s about all these things where I can’t accept the alternative. Like some of the things we just seem to accept in the world as normal. Misogyny, racism, intolerance, you know, we have conversations surrounding these things in the media all the time, but nothing’s changing. And when you think about it, it’s pretty abhorrent. You know, you have to tell men not to rape people, like, including people who supposedly run the world, they have to be told not to rape…
Michèle Lamy: Yeah exactly. I think boxing is a good metaphor for the fight we face and how we should be fighting it. You know, boxing is one-on-one. You look your opponent in the eyes and there are a lot of rules and and there is a lot of respect, traditionally. You know, it brings in a lot of different people; you take people off the street, and kids, and people from all different walks of life, and you see people realise themselves and their potential in the boxing ring. Instead of taking a gun and shooting 20 people in anger, you can be measured and see how to be strong and how to stand for yourself as an individual here. But the fight for each person is completely different.
“What am I fighting for? I’m asking people to take responsibility for themselves and their environment, and for everything that’s in it“ – Gaika
GAIKA: Yeah I totally agree, in that in boxing, when you’re in a ring on your own, you know you’re responsible for yourself. You’re responsible for all your actions, one way or another. Be that protecting yourself, or attacking the other person and winning. But the important part of that is that you’re not setting out to hurt the person, you have to be responsible enough to attack them in a way that’s not going to damage them, that’s not what it’s about. So what am I fighting for? I’m asking people to take responsibility for themselves and their environment, and for everything that’s in it. I learnt to box when I was really young and essentially it’s something that’s carried me through my life. My whole reasoning is if you can fight and you know how to fight, then you should. Because there’s lots of people that can’t fight for themselves, or don’t fight for themselves. I guess I’ve just always felt some weird affinity for those sorts of people. I want to run towards the fight if I see any kind of injustice.
Michèle Lamy: Yes! And you know, Mohammed Ali is still one of the biggest names in boxing, and see what he said about the Vietnam War? He said he didn’t have any quarrel with the Viet Cong, and he wouldn’t fight in the war against them. And he almost went to jail! But he stood up for what he believed in. Which people do in boxing. They stand for what they believe in, but they do it in the right way.
Talking of being ready to fight, and fight in the right way, you’ve had groups of kids come to train and box here. We’ve seen a rise in kids fighting for what they believe in, with the demos that have been happening after the recent school shooting in Florida, and the youth coming out to vote in last year’s general election in the UK. Have you witnessed that here? Where do you think this fight comes from?
GAIKA: Boxing has always been a sport of underprivileged people. I learned to box so I wouldn’t get beaten up. But at the same time, I didn’t want to feel like I could get beaten up if somebody tried to. I also think it’s a way of disconnecting from the world to a certain extent. We’re constantly bombarded with all of this information: there’s wars constantly raging on the screens around us, and there’s 24-hour coverage about crime, and terror and injustice, so people don’t feel safe. When they feel unsafe, they want to arm themselves, they want to know they’re going to be OK, and one of the ways to feel like that is to condition yourself by boxing, or martial arts, or all of these things. And I think that’s where these kids are coming from. They’re preparing themselves because they know if they don’t sort things out, then no one will.
Michèle Lamy: Yeah, you know it could be any of those things...kids are realising, like us, that you can’t necessarily reorganise the world by yourself, but I think as long as we can just feel good about ourselves, as much as we can, and be with likeminded people that share a common goal, then good things can come from that.
GAIKA: It’s about running towards the problem, you know. For me the best form of defence is charging head-on towards danger. I don’t want to feel like the victim. And I think this explosion and anger in people, and young people particularly, is one: because people can see it in a way they couldn’t before and two: because we’ve become so shameless. I personally think that human beings or humanity has a line of morality, actually, and once it goes past that line then a correction that starts happening. It’s like...wait a minute...it’s too far now, I can’t be quiet anymore. Something needs to happen.
And why do you think it’s gotten to that point? Why do you think it has all come to a head now?
GAIKA: The world’s changing and I think the power in the world is shifting and changing. It’s shifting away from the West, it’s shifting away from men, and you’ve got one of two reactions: accept the world is changing and be part of it, or build walls, physically or metaphorically to stop it and to block it out.
Michèle Lamy: Yeah, to be like Trump and his wall, you know, in the White House cowering thinking ‘we are the last supreme white beings’, sitting there with his finger on the nuclear button.
GAIKA: Exactly, and his actions – and the actions of those like him – have become so barefaced that the rest of the world feels like they’ve got to do something, because you know...I was having this conversation a few days ago with friends...and as someone that’s always been on a particular side of transgression, Trump makes me feel, like, super moral. The things he does, they’re just so extreme.
Michèle Lamy: So extreme. You know, I think that it (Trump’s appointment) made a lot of people wake up...which is a good thing. It’s difficult to say why things change – change is happening all the time. But now, I think it’s about the feeling of fear. This time we’re fighting fear and the reason people are ready to fight is because they’re ready to face fear and they’re not willing to be scared anymore.
You mentioned the idea of like-minded people coming together to change things, and you’re obviously both creative people. Do you feel a responsibility to create work that pushes boundaries and builds bridges and essentially changes the world, even in some small way?
GAIKA: I honestly think that’s on everyone. I think that people that work directly in the arts have more time or a certain set of skills to approach it, and, in some ways, with what they put out they can maybe change how people perceive things. From a personal angle, I do feel responsible as an artist to try to make the world a better place, but I don’t necessarily think that anyone else should feel like that. Sometimes I think it’s a case of us becoming more efficient to change the world for the better, rather than it having anything to do with morality.
‘If you say ‘why why why’ all the time, you’re not asking the right questions. 'Why' doesn’t help. People are constantly talking about these huge problems and how to solve them, and what does it all mean? You need science, you need efficiency, you need action‘ – Michèle Lamy
What do you mean by being more efficient?
GAIKA: You know, it never really made sense to me – the massive amount of inequality in the world just seems unnecessary. It just doesn’t seem like an efficient way to keep the world turning if you think of it as a machine or a structure. It’s purely about ego as far as I can tell, it’s not even just about the material side of things or money, it’s about dominance. You only move as fast as the slowest man, you know? Like, if we want to advance, they need to narrow the gap. I spent the last few days at CERN, at the Hadron Collider in Switzerland, and I kept asking the physicist, you know, ‘why did this happen, why did that happen, why why why?’ And he said to me ‘at some point, you have to stop questioning why we exist: it’s irrelevant. It’s about how we exist.’
Michèle Lamy: Exactly! If you say ‘why why why’ all the time, you’re not asking the right questions. 'Why' doesn’t help. People are constantly talking about these huge problems and how to solve them, and what does it all mean? You need science, you need efficiency, you need action. You know, if there is an earthquake or a flood, we need to think ‘OK what do we do, we need to be practical.’ People cannot be left without electricity or water for six months! Then, when we have figured out the problem physically, later we can talk about the problem. By not doing it in that order, we’re not respecting human rights. We need to spring into action first, we can’t just sit there and not do anything about it, we have to take our positions, we have to do what we can. We have the power and the technology to take action, but nobody, or very few, do.
And so what happens next, what’s next in ‘the fight’?
GAIKA: I think there’s this schism between people under 25 and everyone else, because 50 years of ignorance on the older generation’s part has led to this nihilistic situation. But now information flows really quickly, and you pick up on these things happening around the globe so quickly, we’re so connected. I think young people are seeing these bad things happening as a result of people not engaging: they saw what happened in America with Trump, and obviously they saw Brexit. Then in France, we saw a shift when everyone thought Marine Le Pen was going to get into power there, and people rose up to stop it following our previous cautionary tales, you know? They didn’t necessarily believe in what Macron had to offer, but he was better than the alternative.
For me, the fact that kids have been ignored for so long was always gonna lead to them rising up in some way. I mean, look at the school shooting and the protests afterwards...no one can believe that these 17-year-olds are organising walk-outs and demos. They’ve literally just been shot at and they’re having to explain themselves! We’re definitely going to see more of that, the youth, and the underprivileged, and the minorities rallying themselves. It feels like it’s time.
‘We just have to try to find a way to do something within our means to fight for what’s right‘ – Michèle Lamy
And if we fail? What if we can’t change things?
GAIKA: Well, it’s the end of the world.
Michèle Lamy: Oh this nightmare question (laughs). We’ve failed already, there is no fail anymore. We just have to try to find a way to do something within our means to fight for what’s right. And you know, since the dawn of the internet, and people being constantly connected to these violent images every minute, every second, it’s important that the press change too. The media should be analysing themselves and changing the way they do things. I want to see unbiased opinions, I don’t want to see left-wing newspapers or right-wing newspapers. I want to see a tribune that covers it all in a fair way, instead of 100 different newspapers vying to show slightly differing images of the same thing. So as well as the next generation rising to the challenge in a responsible way, if you are looking for change, you are in the right place to make that happen, as a member of the press. You do your bit and we’ll do ours. We’re handing you the baton.