In the opening week of the avant-garde, international art tsunami the Venice Biennale 2011, Laura Rollins of The Biennial Project found herself involved in a guerilla performance piece spotlit by the festival nearby.
On the famed Academia Bridge in Venice, the artist touting the bag made replicas of Louis Vuitton purses as a statement on the vapid materialism and low self-esteem of the international tourist. The camouflaged performance was a commentary on those who spend way too much money on the universally recognized symbol of great, disposable wealth.
When you look rich by flaunting your materialism, you look better than the poor and you’re treated with respect, aims the message of the artist. The image to everyone not carrying a Louis Vuitton handbag? The bag’s owner is better than you non-owners because the owner has more wealth. The irony of this slyly subversive performance piece is that the bag is a replica. That didn’t stop Laura, playing the role of the international tourist to perfection, from buying it for 15 Euros.
Laura continued the artistic collaboration by gauging the reaction of the unknowing public. The visiting pedestrians of the globe were meant to view the art exhibit in motion and make judgments on Laura, not knowing that the bag was fake and that Laura was its display stand.
The artistic statement thickens, playing on the Western world’s knowledge of the ease of finding a knockoff Louis Vuitton Bag, sullying the shine of the rich further.
People might have assumed that wealthy Laura, with the illusion of real, extravagant means, was simply putting on a show. It is then that the artist wanted the audience to question which social class Laura really played for. A real perpetrator carrying the knockoff might go through their day thinking that others think they’ve got the goods.
In fact, they may be revealing their true position in class structure, as it’s well-known that people parade fake Louis Vuitton just as often.
Laura and the Venetian artist prove that a knockoff Louis Vuitton purse is just one great equalizer in our modern capitalist society. The class system in the artist’s crosshairs, by striving to appear to have, have brought the people who actually have down to an equal surface level. The artist cuts through exterior, status-oriented presentation and into the souls, the insecurities and self-doubts we all share.
The authentically ambiguous Louis Vuitton handbag, not unlike Mao’s China, has the citizens all wearing identical uniforms. It makes us all appear equal and better able to concentrate on more important aspects of life instead of the superficial. Both the Louis Vuitton handbag and the Communist China uniform are compromised designs.
In reality there is no individuality or creativity in either the uniform or the handbag.
They are both simple, boring designs that are made to be demographically pleasing to a wide audience. All discerning aspects of design have been marginalized as to not offend or set anyone apart. They are both made so the owner can fit into society by not standing out creatively, and instead fit into the society in which they belong.
Another irony which Laura and this yet-to-be famous Venetian artist are demonstrating by presenting the collaboration is their backdrop of the Venice Biennale during it’s opening week. This is a week where the most creative members of societies around the world are chosen to represent and converge together for a week of individual expression.
The idea of carrying a Louis Vuitton bag is the least creative expression of self one can make.
Laura and the Venetian artist have taken this symbol of mass dulling of individual expression and made it a symbol that can take on new life. It is now a tool to fool the population who don’t “get the joke”- i.e. the international tourist and those who take part in the masquerade.
Proven again is the ability of art and the Venice Biennale to provide a rich arena in which to examine the underlying dynamics of our society. An artful eye can re-contextualize everyday events so as to reveal the truth lurking below, and the members of The Biennial Project are the right people for the job.