Girls: Use Only as Directed

by

01/16/2004

1002 madison avenue new york ny

Neighborhood: Upper East Side

I immediately rediscovered my stance – Kruger’s signature red boxes, the bold typed messages upon entrance erased the damage the glossy magazine had done. I remembered whose side I was on when viewing Kruger’s commands: "you are a captive audience", "your body is a battleground", "we are your elaborate holes", "your comfort is my silence." Every picture and its copy stung like a much needed slap. Each image and phrase shredded page after page of Marie Claire. Yet later during the week I found myself at a party for a book release.

The celebration was for Girls, the newest series of photographs to come forth from the fashion industry. The title takes its name from the premise that there is a way to remain forever adolescent. According to the photos one must not have breasts, wear little flesh, stare doe eyed into the camera’s flash and appear to be at best boyish. In the montage of images nine out of two hundred and eight were authentic pictures of girls. The bulk of the book consisted of waify models doing adultish acts – sexily sipping tea in the bathtub, spread legged sucking on cigarettes, riding on the back of a man’s motorcycle – hardly endorsing the behavior of females under eighteen. Naturally, amongst the guest’s at this gathering on West 9th Street were many of the gals who graced the pages of Girls. I stood between my friend Dimitri and Christy Turlington as the introductions began, "this is Christy, Jaime , Domino and blah, blah, blah." See Dimitri and me, we were "blah, blah, blah" – invisible, no need for a named presence, and I couldn’t help but wonder; would Marie Claire have made all the difference? Could the right shoes , dress, lipstick made the situation twist? What complexion application might have made me exist? I had entered the world of pretense , where split ends and fashion trends determined one’s worth.

Kruger’s work marched through my head. The image of a dismembered Barbie doll with the words "use only as directed" against it. The silhouette of a woman bent over with nails protruding from her body, across it the words, "we have received orders not to move." Kruger was exposing the message the people at this party were pretentiously and ignorantly re-proposing. Marie Claire was an eerie foreshadowing , trying to prepare me, we women for occasions such as these, books such as Girls. To the fashion industry we have brains in need of washing with exfoliants, deodorants, the right razor – we need to be taught how to become eye candy, sweet and easy to persuade – relearn what it takes to

It took one magazine to transfix me into superficial beliefs. Back into a child rearranging a dollhouse – and as with decorating a dollhouse all one’s time is spent redesigning rooms, one never really plays. So is the mission of the fashion industry, glamour magazines, advertising: stand in front of your full length mirror and focus on your flaws, find a way to perfect them, learn to carry an air of pretense, be properly introduced at parties. You too can become a fixture of fashion – furniture moved in and out of rooms; controllable, hopefully beautiful, inanimate, powerless and most importantly, unthreatening. A girl weak and in need of others to guide, direct, be told how to dress, decide what’s appropriate, and as always ,be submissively kept.

Constant consumers of Marie Claire , contemplating what cover up to use next month, what kind of hair color to buy. After all it is a woman’s job to propagate what Kruger calls, "the regulation of fantasy." And it is the function of Vogue, Elle, Marie Claire, to keep this mantra in women’s conscience, to keep books like Girls packing the shelves of Barnes and Noble, coffee table reading, while Kruger’s work remains displayed along Museum Mile, hidden in the fine arts community where it is less threatening by remaining less accessible to girls and women alike. However we can freely see the spillage of the fashion industry on every city bus, street corner and news stand. And parties like the one on West 9th Street won’t be troubled with the interference that awareness brings so the guests can focus on what’s really important like what they’ll be wearing to their next gathering.

brooke

Also: Here is an excerpt from a 1988 interview with Barbara Kruger that appeared in the April issue of Splash Magazine, whose cover is featured above:

"I think eccentric cropping comes in because it grabs the viewer. Culture values how things look: how they look to their viewers. I also think about how things look at their viewers. I try to establish a kind of retinal conversation, a chorus of what we’ve seen and heard. Artists tend to partake in a sort of visual regurgitation: a somewhat viscous blending of the recordings of the outside with the whispering of the innards."

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