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Hedi Slimane's American Dream

The French photographer opens two exhibitions exploring the American Dream using his LA home as inspiration

Photographer, fashion designer, creative director, record cover creator, curator, artist, store designer – it is unlikely there is a creative medium that Hedi Slimane hasn’t turned his hand too with immense success. A four-volume anthology of his photography is being published by JRP Ringier this month, alongisde two exhibitions that reflect his personal relationship with his adopted home and greatest current influence: Los Angeles. ‘Fragments Americana’ exhibiting his own images in Brussels and ‘California Dreamin’ which opens in Paris, bringing together iconic LA names like Ed Rusha, Mike Kelley and Sterling Ruby. Slimane talks to Dazed about Los Angeles and its special influence on his work

Dazed Digital: Has your experience of Los Angeles influenced your work?
Hedi Slimane:
 I don't think LA had any influence over my work before 2007. It was a place for seclusion. I did not drive. My driver, who was a 60 year old black DJ, an expert in soul and RnB, would make playlists for the car and take me out to buy records or go to some museum, once in a while. The rest of the time, I was working or watching movies from my hotel room. I always thought I would love to live in Los Angeles at some point… when I quit Dior in March 2007, I announced it to the house from Los Angeles. The transition ended up on a trip to northern California, Santa Cruz, San Francisco, Portland, and back to Los Angeles. Most of the photographs ended up in a show, ‘Young American’, at the Foam Photography Museum in Amsterdam in July 2007. This is precisely when it started to be about Los Angeles.

DD: What do you find interesting about the art coming out of the city?
Hedi Slimane: I tend to explore each corner of a city when I live there, as I did with Berlin before. Therefore, curating a show about LA art was a really natural outcome. I feel Los Angeles offers the possibility for each artist to create a body of work outside of any distraction, expectation or speculation. LA is only a circus for the movie stars. For the rest of the mortals, it is tranquility and focus. It is somehow a free, wide territory to explore, to invent, or reinvent, outside preconceived ideas. There is also this tradition here, from renowned artists, such as Charles Ray for instance, to teach in art schools. To somehow project this idea of an artistic community and history.

DD: What interests you about the approach and aesthetics of the artists you have included in your show California Dreamin’?
Hedi Slimane: There is an element which is quite objective, as the perspective is somehow didactical, going from "historical" artists (Ed Ruscha, Baldessari, etc), to almost-emerging art (Patrick Hill, Aaron Curry etc). The subjective element is purely formal, with a reduced perspective, monochromatic, and somehow "Babilonian", and oblique.

DD: Are you interested in the heritage of Hollywood?
Hedi Slimane: I have no interest at all for Hollywood, but I do for the history of Hollywood, the mythology of Hollywood. I start in the 1950's, and I somehow stop in the 80s.

DD: Do you think there is a connection between LA and music culture in particular?
Hedi Slimane: Two houses uphill from mine was Elvis Presley's house in the early 70s, two house down was a Motown legend. Music, like the film industry is at each corner. Even pools come in a shape of music (a piano pool for Elvis obviously). LA is mostly about the majors though, or the heavyweight of the "entertainment" industry, music included. It has obviously the most incredible heritage in music, the best recording studios, technically the best musicians. Music is half of Hollywood. As far as I'm concerned, there is no place like London. I'll stay loyal to it all my life. I like the energy of the music scene in London, the wit, the heritage. The streets of London.

DD: How does it feel to be a Frenchman in Los Angeles? Do you feel alien to the environment in some way?
Hedi Slimane: Strangely enough, I do feel more of an alien in Paris, at least those days. Los Angeles is actually full of French, mostly in the movie industry, and post production in particular. Apart from that, i feel home in California. I'm sometimes technically homesick, but after two days of Paris, I'm ready to pull the ejecting seat. I now feel homesick when I'm away form LA too long.

DD: Los Angeles has always been so integrated with the idea of the American Dream, the definition of Americana itself. What are your feelings about that connection?
Hedi Slimane: This is quite precisely what I have been documenting over the years, the signs, fragments, semiotics of Americana, which ended up a universal lexical. Los Angeles, together with NY, exported since the last world war, the idea of Americana. The impact of Los Angeles was considerable on the rest of the world, in the making of a "youth" identity or "teen age" universal language. From James Dean, and the birth of teen idols to Venice beach invention of the skate subculture, etc etc, Los Angeles has created over decades a specific lexical for the global representation of youth. London certainly comes next.

DD: Anything to add?
Hedi Slimane: Welcome to California? Anybody?

Hedi Slimane: Anthology of a Decade is published by JRP Ringier in March; Feb 26 – Mar 26 California Dreamin, Galerie Almine Rech, 19 Rue Saintonge 75003 Paris; Feb 25 – Mar 26 ‘Fragments Americana', Galerie Almine Rech, 20 Rue de l’Abbaye Abdijstraat, Brussels