Chuck Nanney

Galerie Jousse Seguin

For some time now Chuck Nanney has been making huge accumulations of secondhand and vintage garments that function as repositories of stories, affects, and desires. It wasn’t until his recent show, however, that he exposed this aspect of his work. Here, in a series of photographic self-portraits in drag, we find all the poses, hand gestures, and hairstyles associated with the fashion model.

As Robert Nickas explains in the catalogue, the artist’s taste for transvestism goes back to his childhood : “When Chuck Nanney was a young boy, he and his brother Dennis invented a game for themselves called ‘Dennis and Chuck’. In the game they were themselves as adults, but Chuck was ‘Chuck’s wife’—a cross between Honey West, the ’60s TV detective, and Emma Peele, from The Avengers.” The confusion in this work is the product of a multiplication of the personality—a clash of heterogenous subjectivities. A print dress in ’70s acid colors is worn with a beard; a classic black suit over a white turtleneck, with hair down and bare feet. . . . This work does not address the passage from one identity to another (man–woman); rather, it is about relinquishing a fixed identity, about inverting the convention of the “bearded lady” and presenting the man as object.

Behind this gag there is something of the essence of fashion. Just as Jean Paul Gaultier attempts to stretch conventions of subjectivity, not only via the rather pedestrian exercise of provocation of his skirts for men, but by introducing a sense of the dysfunctional, Nanney presents fashion statements that work precisely because they do not work. Sporty green shorts with white piping are worn too short and with a black-and-red plaid blouse a size or two too small. A delicious salmon-pink shirt is paired with nut-colored velour bell-bottoms in the worst taste. Whatever the artist wears becomes an item of fashion, that is to say a nonidentified object, a displaced object, a deviant object, an object of desire, a man-object.

By playing the man-object, Nanney upsets sartorial, social, and cultural codes. And in the end, this is fashion, what the body subjects itself to for culture: a torsion, an imperceptible disturbance, “a seizure of the internal drama of man,” (as Coco Chanel said to Paul Morand), without which there can be no art, let alone fashion. Nanney’s man-object presents the intimate body as challenge to the subject. The subject that no longer believes its own image, its own desire, its self-command and autonomy—the subject that sheds the skin of its subjectivity for other people’s clothes, other people’s gestures, other people’s culture. Because clothes that are used, battered, beyond repair, do not express anything other than a tear in the social fabric—that tear in the appearance, by which the body, the “me,” can spring forth again, can announce itself as unique and inappropriable.

Olivier Zahm

Translated from the French by Diana C. Stoll.