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Bette Talvacchia: Fashioning Identity in Film
Fashioning Identity in Film
(p. 346 – 357)

»Covered by an outer skin of another's devising«

Bette Talvacchia

Fashioning Identity in Film

PDF, 12 pages

Dedicated to Kurt Forster, whose enquiring mind is an example for all who would transcend the narrow boundaries imposed on scholarship, and whose enthusiasm encourages us to get on with it.

Having confessed himself formerly untouched by the allure of fashion, Wim Wenders pursues the implications of his conversion in Notebook on Cities and Clothes. Commissioned by the Centre Pompidou in Paris, the personalized documentary records the Zen-tinged approach of Yohji Yamamoto to the design of garments, while it pulses with Wenders’s enthrallment with the procedure. The designer’s conversation and the director’s voice-overs meld into a compatible philosophy of artistic manufacture: both meditate upon process as a means of signifying the final product’s meaning. Beyond this, the entire project is overlaid with an extended and elastic metaphor: the production and screening of a film is analogous to the creation and staging of a fashion collection, and both produce a series of images inextricably bound up with the construction of identity in contemporary society.

Wenders provides an anecdote, ostensibly taken from his own experience, that functions as an originating myth for the film’s quest to fathom the links between individual identity, clothing, and image. When the director talks about his acquaintance with the designer, he mysteriously states that he had experienced a portentous encounter with Yamamoto previous to their actual meeting. On that occasion the spiritual emanated from the material—i.e., when Wenders first put on a shirt and jacket by Yamamoto, it brought on a rush of childhood memories merged with “the essence” of the garment.

Through this story, Wenders gives voice to, and calls into question, his disorienting and disproportionately strong reaction to the simple act of slipping into a shirt and jacket. What causes him to feel most “himself” in an outfit designed by another? How is it that to wear this clothing is to experience his own identity in a powerful way? Why is it that, paradoxically, he most acutely perceives a sense of self when covered by an outer skin of another’s devising? These questions motivate the director’s pursuit of his subject and give a personal investment to the series of musings that open the film, inscribed on the screen as Wenders intones the words

“We are creating an image of ourselves,

We are attempting to resemble this image.

Is that what we call identity?

The accord

between the image we have created

of ourselves

and … ourselves?”

In this tentative hypothesis, we construct identity through a willful assemblage...

  • identity
  • fashion
  • gender
  • film

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Bette Talvacchia

is a Professor in the Department of Art & Art History at the University of Connecticut, and a specialist in the Renaissance and Baroque periods.

Nanni Baltzer (ed.), Jacqueline Burckhardt (ed.), ...: Art History on the Move

Das Thema »On the Move« ist in vielschichtiger Weise mit Kurt W. Forster verbunden, dem dieser Band gewidmet ist. Es charakterisiert die Geistes- und Lebenshaltung dieses Architektur- und Kunsthistorikers, der über epochale, mediale und disziplinäre Grenzen hinweg forscht: Mit Leichtigkeit bewegt er sich zwischen Pontormo und John Armleder, Giulio Romano und Frank Gehry, K. F. Schinkel und Mies van der Rohe, Aby Warburg und W. G. Sebald, W. H. Fox Talbot und Andreas Gursky. Er interessiert sich für den Zusammenhang von Musik und Architektur wie für den Schaffensprozess von Architekten. »On the Move« beschreibt ferner die biographische Situation Forsters, der an der Stanford University, dem MIT, der ETH Zürich oder der Bauhaus Universität Weimar unterrichtete und aktuell an der Yale School of Architecture tätig ist. Als Lehrer hat er Generationen von Studierenden für die uneingeschränkte curiositas begeistert, als Direktor des Schweizer Instituts in Rom, des Getty Research Center in Los Angeles oder des Canadian Centre for Architecture in Montreal den Austausch unter Forschenden gefördert. Zudem kuratierte er prägende Ausstellungen wie die Architekturbiennale 2004 in Venedig.

Die unterschiedlichen Beiträge des Bandes sind ein Spiegel von Forsters jahrzehntelanger Tätigkeit: Architekturthemen erstrecken sich von den Anfängen des Markusdoms in Venedig über Charles De Waillys Pariser Panthéon-Projekt, das Thomas Jefferson Memorial, den Barcelona-Pavillon Mies van der Rohes oder die Architekturfotografie im faschistischen Italien bis zu Achsen und ihren Brüchen in Paris und Berlin. Analysen im Bereich der Bildkünste behandeln Momente kollektiven Erinnerns in Fra Angelicos Fresken ebenso wie Pipilotti Rists elektronische Urhütte oder Laurie Andersons »Dal Vivo«. Literarische Auseinandersetzungen umfassen etwa Nietzsches Venedig-Gedichte, verschollene Briefe von Nabokov oder die Hauptstädte Walter Benjamins. Zudem enthält der Band zahlreiche persönliche Erinnerungen sowie architektonisch-künstlerische Interventionen.