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AVANTgarden issue 7 – Beauty of the DiscardedCreative direction FKA twigs and Lyle XOX, facial sculptures and make-up Lyle XOX, photography Nhu Xuan Hua

FKA twigs on finding beauty, art, and inspiration in the discarded

In a collaboration with Dazed Beauty and the formidable artist’s digizine AVANTgarden, twigs and artist and MUA Lyle XOX breathe new life into rubbish donations from Christopher Kane, Courtney Love, Phoebe Waller-Bridge, and more

A few weeks before ‘social distancing’ and ‘self-imposed isolation’ invaded everyday discourse, Dazed Beauty began collaborating with modern pop auteur FKA twigs and make-up and multimedia artist Lyle Reimer – AKA LYLE XOX – for the seventh issue of digizine AVANTgarden. A series of portraits shot by Nhu Xuan Hua, inspired by sustainability, and using found objects to explore a mode of creativity that moved beyond consumption. 

Considering this strange new reality we now live in, the series gains an urgent new perspective. Titled ‘Beauty of The Discarded’, the somewhat prophetic cover sees FKA twigs wearing a face mask constructed from a bra, a perspex guard fashioned from a stripper heel, and a regal naval hat upcycled from a Christopher Kane shopping bag, styled by Lyle. 

The rubbish donations for the shoot come from friends, peers, and collaborators. Fleabag star Phoebe Waller-Bridge, designers Christopher Kane, Ed Marler, and Claire Barrow, musicians Courtney Love and Benny Blanco, and Extinction Rebellion Youth’s Daze Aghaji all donated used items to be given a second life by Lyle. A minimal-waste shoot and magazine was a priority – FKA twigs hand-collected donations and others were couriered on bicycles.

twigs is hoping the project will inspire other people, as it has herself, to look at found and disused objects with a renewed fascination. “I want to get tagged in loads of pictures of people repurposing things from their homes, and pinning things to their heads,” she tells me. Here, the formidable artist and LYLE XOX chat isolation, transformation, and collaboration. 

I wanted to start by asking, how you’re both finding isolation?

LYLE XOX: I’ve been able to spend time in my studio because there isn’t anybody else in that space. I’m completely by myself. I’m still able to be going to work, which is incredibly helpful. 

FKA twigs: It’s  definitely challenging. I’m isolating with people – I’m quite an introverted person and I need a lot of space. It’s hard finding privacy and flow, but then at the same time, I’m lucky because there’s a lot of green where I am. I appreciate my walk every day. Not everyone’s getting to do that right now. I’m trying to find the small positives and acknowledge things that I have that not everybody has right now. Everyone is on all levels, in this together. It’s challenging for sure..

LYLE XOX: It’s so nice to hear your voice. I miss you.

FKA twigs: I miss you too. (The shoot) was the final big hurrah before everything was shut down...

How are you guys finding isolation with regards to your own creative output? Is this a time of productivity or rest for you? 

LYLE XOX: To be super transparent, I have days where I’m not in a good headspace and I feel mildly depressed. Then there are other days where I’m in the studio, and it just flows out. I’ve actually been able to create this whole body of work right now that hasn’t been photographed yet. When I’ll be able to look back, years down the road, I’ll know that all of those pieces were actually made during a time of isolation. 

FKA twigs: I keep on having like a couple of good days in a row and calling a friend being like ‘Yeah, I’m in the flow of it now,’ but then the day after I have a super bad day.

What’s changed for you during this period? 

FKA twigs: It’s shifted my entire routine. When I first found out that I wasn’t going to be doing any shows this year, initially there was a little sense of relief. Touring can be difficult. There’s a lot of mourning of things that are lost. Very quickly, it kind of steeped in: I am not going to be doing what I love the most, which is performing. I’ve been writing a little bit over FaceTime with some musical collaborators. For some people, this comes very easily. I have one collaborator, who’s quite a new collaborator, but we just flow. I am also respecting everybody else’s good days and bad days because you can’t always align. Even when you say, ‘Okay, on Tuesday, we’re going to get on FaceTime, we’re going to do this,’ but that doesn’t sync with their mood. It takes a lot of patience.

LYLE XOX: Absolutely – I had gallery shows, solo exhibitions, lots of things lined up, so I can relate to losing that feeling of doing the thing that you love most. A lot of artists are in that same position where they see their income just kind of stop all of a sudden because there aren’t any new jobs coming in, it’s shocking.

FKA twigs: Especially for musicians, performing live at festivals is really the only income that a lot of artists have. This summer is going to have an incredible impact on the music industry and on those artists in the first place. 

This new issue of AVANTgarden then feels particularly poetic, given the circumstances the world is facing right now.

FKA twigs: I started AVANTgarden a few years ago when I was quite unwell. I started to realise that I couldn’t work at the same rate, with the same depth as I had been doing through the years previous. I thought it could be really good to find new ways to create things with people that I admired, mostly on Instagram, but more generally on the internet. In my life as a musician, it doesn’t always make sense to work with these people I admire from a distance. I wanted to create short bursts of work that would take me a month or two that could then live by itself. The first AVANTgarden was about women of colour embracing their hair and protective styles. I did a live launch at WAH Nails where I invited hundreds of girls to come and share their experiences of their hair. That was a very deep and emotional subject for me. 

How did you discover Lyle’s work and what drew you in? 

FKA twigs: I found Lyle’s work probably three years ago and I always thought it was so beautiful. I loved the sentiment behind his work. All these sculptures were made from people’s discarded rubbish and, yet, Lyle would take objects and make it into a beautiful art piece. Lyle was giving everything a second life. Now felt like the right time to bring it into its full glory. Lyle doesn’t do his face sculptures on other people, I felt so honoured to be able to carry his work as best as I could. 

LYLE XOX: It makes me actually feel emotional listening to you talk. Through watching and observing twigs’ professional work, and seeing that you have created your own creative language that’s completely unique in the industry – I have incredible respect for you. I remember sitting there, on our chairs in the workroom, and there was a calm that came over me. Watching it come alive on your face was so beautiful.

FKA twigs: Being able to collaborate is one of the great joys of being a human. If I didn’t think that before all of this, boy do I feel it now, only a month into having ideas and having nowhere to put them that feels concrete is quite painful. For us to have done this bit of magic a month before the lockdown and not even know what was so lucky.

How did you feel with the sculptures on your face? 

FKA twigs: All these different sculptures became different characters. When we did the Pirate-y look I really did feel cheeky, you know? When we did the Shakespearean Hamlet sculpture, I really did feel very tragically sad. And it was on a deeper level. The magic is really in the final touches – the addition of a button, or the final brushstroke. 

“Being able to collaborate is one of the great joys of being a human. If I didn’t think that before all of this, boy do I feel it now, only a month into having ideas and having nowhere to put them that feels concrete is quite painful” – FKA twigs

Lyle – you’ve been using found objects throughout your career as an artist. Can you tell us about your process? 

LYLE XOX: It goes back to my childhood. My mum is an artist. She always imparted the notion and the philosophy of looking at things in the world that have no perceived value, and refashioning them, making them valuable. I look at the things that get thrown out on a daily basis and I’m profoundly influenced by that. I feel that stories are embedded into each of these pieces, and you don’t know whose hands have touched those items, and the life that they’ve already had prior to getting into my own hands or into my own studio.

twigs and I had been speaking for years and I had begun saving a box of items that were dedicated specifically to her. When it all came together, it wasn’t like I was just running around grabbing random things. There was a box that was all handpicked specifically for that project. When I got to London and met with Suz Pettigrew, (AVANTgarden), she took me through some of the other pieces that had been donated. It was the marriage of those two worlds, twigs’s world, and my world to create the pieces. Nothing was pre-made, everything was made right there in the moment.

twigs, do you now have a new found adoration of found objects?

FKA twigs: Yeah, definitely. I didn’t know what Lyle was going to bring with him. So in the week before meeting, I hit up my friends asking if I could come and raid their bins. Benny Blanco and I were in a session and it was coming to the end and I was like, ‘Hey, can I go through your bin and see if I can find anything?’ And he was like, ‘I mean...,’ Luckily I know Benny super well so he was cool with it. I remember finding loads of pistachio shells and it just made me see them in a different way. The funny thing is that it was surprisingly hard to ask people for rubbish. I was bothering Courtney Love for a good two hours. My life is so weird! Of all the things I’m calling Courtney Love about, I’m calling her to be like ‘Hey, can I have your rubbish?’ It’s really interesting how something that you find that seems quite silly can be spray painted, turned inside out, and it acquires a completely different meaning. 

Has it changed your relationship with ‘stuff’?

FKA twigs: I’m now thinking deeply about, ‘How can we make work and be kind to the earth and not be wasteful?’ It comes so naturally to Lyle, but to myself, it definitely made me think in a much deeper way about what I can do as an artist to help with things like that. How can I tour (while) being kinder to the earth? How can I take Lyle’s ideology and apply it to what I do as an artist? When we did the shoot, because of the subject matter, we made sure that the shoot was really sustainable. We offset Lyle’s flight by planting trees, we did the whole thing trying to ensure that we weren’t taking from the earth. It made me realise that we should be creating like that anyway. 

I think now these images are now taking on a whole new meaning. We’re all looking inward and we’re thinking, ‘What do I actually need, how much do I consume, at what cost?’ It’s titled ‘Beauty Of The Discarded’ – what does that  mean to you now in this new world?

LYLE XOX: It’s about how we decide what’s rubbish, or garbage, and why those words often have such negative connotations. When you put the word ‘beauty’ next to an item that has been taken from the trash, you’re giving them a new life. 

FKA twigs: It makes me think of how many times, as humans, we’ve got it wrong. ‘Beauty Of The Discarded’ makes me think of how we have discarded how we are supposed to live as humans. Now we are realising that there’s some simpler ways of doing it and that the closer we are to the earth, the better. 

LYLE XOX: I also found it really interesting that the cover image is so  ‘prophetic’. In the moment, I was just like, ‘I want to take this bra cup and I want to turn it into this mask, and then the clear plastic from the stripper heel, I want to use it as a face shield’ and to see the images that are all over the news now... 

You both clearly like playing with your own sense of self. Is wearing a mask transformative? 

LYLE XOX: The terminology ‘mask’ is used a lot when people are describing what I do. For me, though, I never really think of them as masks. A mask is something that is put over someone’s face and the person that’s underneath is gone. 

FKA twigs: When I embody a character, it’s more like magnifying a small part of myself. When I did MAGDALENE, everyone was like, ‘Are you okay hun?’, I was like ‘Yeah, those sad songs are truthful.’ It’s completely suffocating when I’m in character, it’s real, it’s all-consuming for that moment. 

“This is a beautiful way for people to be inspired and find things in their house and sticking objects and materials to their faces. I want Lyle and I to be tagged in lots of different pictures. It’s about community, collaboration, inspiration” – FKA twigs

What’s the first thing that you guys will do when you get out of quarantine? 

FKA twigs: Oh gosh, I don’t know, I’m just going to hug all my friends. Hugging people has never felt so enticing –dangerous and enticing and wild, isn’t it? Hugging someone is probably the most avant-garde thing you can do right now. 

LYLE XOX: A big get together, a big dinner party! Real conversations with hugs and all of it, and just have a real beautiful moment together. 

How do you hope people feel when they look at these portraits? 

LYLE XOX: I hope that they embody the title, to find beauty in the discarded. 

FKA twigs: This is a beautiful way for people to be inspired and find things in their house and sticking objects and materials to their faces. I want Lyle and I to be tagged in lots of different pictures. It’s about community, collaboration, inspiration, it’s about building a place on the internet where we can feel a real sense of being a collective. That’s what I’m hoping for.

Creative direction FKA twigs and Lyle XOX, facial sculptures and make-up Lyle XOX, photography Nhu Xuan Hua, editor and designer Suzannah Pettigrew, special thanks Matthew Josephs and Millie Yoxen, found objects contributors Daze Aghaji, Benny Blanco, Christopher Kane, Claire Barrow, Courtney Love, Ed Marler, and Phoebe Waller-Bridge, reimagined logo George Jasper Stone, photography assistant Anna-Sophia John, post-production Hempstead May, make-up MAC Cosmetics