AW20 "HELL MEND YOU"
“Are you dancin’?” is the question. Crossing the divide. The risk.
“Are you askin’?” is the answer.
Just the first answer. Sense-check, counter-challenge.
(Did you think, if you asked a simple question, you would get a simple reply?) “I’m asking.”
“Then I’m dancing.”
In HELL MEND YOU, Charles Jeffrey creates two counter-cultures and sets them against each other, either side of an existential dance. This is the future, cast in all its bleak reality, and the dance is a DEMAND and a DARE: the survival of humanity is either the PRIZE or the PRICE...
The first sect Jeffrey conjures is the DANDERS. Evolved from the proud roots of Teddy-boy pride with an underlying twist of Scottish militaria, DANDERS – as the name suggests – would be dandies alone if they weren’t so physical, so inventive, so hands-on. In this barren, undone world, they brandish a toughness, even a muscularity, reaching down in desperation to an older, more animalistic tradition - from the very edges of Scotland.
This tradition is the Festival of the Horse from the Orkney Islands, where the young compete in the ritual ploughing of straight lines and parading of exquisite, lovingly-made, costumes. In their own way, they pay homage to humankind’s ancient bond with the animal world.
The more sophisticated a people become the more the animal speaks through them, and in the DANDERS, new proud forms emerge with the careful adornment of horse ceremony motifs. Their colours are bold, dark, warm: black, rich reds, burgundy, orange; earthen hues. Ambiguity is all: a uniform might clothe a soldier or a priest. As Scottish military history is evolved and re-rendered. Tartan is itself a touch-point for the revolution: a strip of LOVERBOY plaid flirts down the length of an army coat, a squaddie’s bonnet is lightened in the wool cotton mix that is ‘bumble’, flopping down bluely with raw edge.
The counterpart of the DANDERS clan are the GLAEDYHOOTS; If the presiding artist for the DANDERS is street-wise John Byrne, for the GLAEDYHOOTS, it is Margaret Macdonald Mackintosh, who made the willow and the climbing-rose key to her elegant, nature-based forms.
The GLAEDYHOOTS themselves are sensuousness, selflessness, grace in the midst of strife. They are magical crafters, emotionally, delicately intelligent – glade-dwellers, migraine-disappears, soothers – practical reclaimers of the word ‘exquisite’. Mauves, rose, river-greens are the palette here as, for a GLAEDYHOOT the heart is more flower than flesh, a hopeful blossom between bud and bloom, just unfurling – yet quite strong enough to structure a coat-dress or gown. Spiral-ruffled sleeves and silky pleated full skirts floating on black tulle underlayers point to a painterly people, hand decorated with eddies of colour which speak of forest dapple and river-pool reflections, naturalistic reminiscences from a world in which only traces of nature remain.
The Festival of the horse is in the DNA of the GLAEDYHOOTS too – the tribes in HELL MEND YOU may start on opposite sides but as we often forget, way back, we’re built from a common culture. We haven’t left it, entirely. And so: detailing on straps, floral horse rosettes, studded headpieces – all reflect this shared history.
One of the clear implications of HELL MEND YOU is that we all share this same dance. It’s a dance between, on the one side, potent minimalism (clean lines & functional detailing) – and abundant fertility (caressing tendril strands, tender florals – psychedelic swirl). It’s a dance between bold assertion and fecund detail.
But did I say we ALL share the dance? Oh, no, not all.
While this is a coming together, a ceremonial blessing for the many... we’re at breaking point. And who exactly are we dancing for? This dance is shatter. It’s techno-suicide. We’re stepping into a ballroom for the condemned. An older, hidden, generation have made brutal calculations and we’ve inherited their catastrophe. While they still look on, we suffer the consequences, paying a sacrificial price in blood.
Make no mistake, for all its vitality, for all its no-apology beauty, HELL MEND YOU is a kiss-off. A no-holds-barred warning and CURSE.
This is the broken future – 2020 is the broken future – and, unless something – about the size of the impossible – gives, then HELL MEND YOU is a DANCE TO THE DEATH.
Location Battersea Arts Centre
Words by Richard Prince