Plush Decay means dying with fullness.
Our twelfth installment was the biggest collaboration yet. It all started with my friend Anja Notanja Sieger - poet, typewriter enthusiast, visual artist, actress, and improv artist. She asked me a few months back if I'd like to have a Plush Decay shoot for her creative writing class, so that they could respond to it, pose the models, etc. It appealed to me immediately, since a collaboration with Anja is always a memorable experience. Her series of creative writing classes (for this class was only one of 5 she is teaching, each with a different theme) always take place at Voyageur Book Shop, a charming literary spot in Bayview. Blaine Wesselowski, the owner of the book shop, was kind enough to let our troupe use any space in the store we needed. Voyageur's beauty comes from its clean layout, wide selection of and within genres, as well as their special editions section near the counter, boasting some beautiful and rare tomes. A bonus treat is the kindly cat who roams around both the upper and lower sections of the store - one of our photographers was lucky enough to capture her in a few shots with one of our models. The lower section of the store is where the class took place. When their styling was finalized, half of our models posed along one wall of books, moving through different poses with different time limits (1 minute pose, 5 minute pose, etc.). Anja wanted the writers to react to the models similar to how visual artists do in a figure drawing class. While they were writing and the models posing, our photographers floated around, shooting from different angles and capturing the models in varied hues of the wonderful lights. Annie Grizzle, one of the photographers, supplied the lights from the amazing resource that is MKE Production Rental. A video and film production rental company, they also provide advice and expertise on which kind of equipment is right for your project. Annie's lighting really made all the difference and added an otherworldly feel to the inside shots.
Another element that made a big difference was makeup - for the first time we had makeup artists on set. Claire Laurel, a filmmaker and photographer, is also very talented at the art of makeup - she did some beautiful work on Jacqueline and Kristen in particular. Visiting from Beloit, my sister-in-law and makeup lover Michel'lay Lane did beautiful work on Valerie and Desiree. Some of the models did their own, with Jenny's being the most elaborate and sci-fi inspired. As the shoot went on, Claire did touch ups when a smudge occurred, from a pose or a wardrobe shift.
For the photographers, I wanted to utilize some familiar faces as well as new ones. Annie Grizzle captured beautiful pastel and dream-like images, which are reminiscent of the work of Petra Collins. Annie has shot Plush Decay once before, and has modeled in several installments, too. Young artist and beam of energetic light Olivia Kinneston captured so much movement, expression, and a sort of playful sensuality in her portraits and group shots. Olivia has shot with us before, for the grunge-inspired bookstore set. Claire Laurel and Claire Kotlowski are new collaborators - both are photographers, skilled at makeup, and overall beautiful humans. Claire Laurel's set plays with lines in a very striking way, and engages with a sort of hide-and-seek of the subjects' faces. Claire Kotlowski's captures are vibrant and vulnerable close ups of the models, evoking a raw and otherworldly environment. Kelly Cassel, a MIAD graduate and printmaker as well as photographer, created some melancholy and tender moments with her camera. Dorian Simpson, who has shot with us twice before, harnessed some very tender moments of interaction between the models, and also made this beautiful video of the shoot. Mary, an artist and the woman behind Milwaukee based vintage store Fossil Hunt Vintage, snagged a great photo set of Shauna interacting with the spaces in and out of the bookstore. Michael, a young and multitalented artist, really captured the bright and vibrant color combination in striking ways, especially in the shots with Jacqueline and Ariana.
Our models - all ten of them - were a pleasure to work with and each brought something different to the lens. Ariana Vaeth is a painter whose face works so well on camera - there is a playfulness and a jester-like quality to her shapeshifting features. She can look sensual, mischievous, aloof, or motherly, with seemingly little effort. I styled her in some pieces she brought herself, as well as some very unique garments that Annie Tique, the woman behind Annie's Vintage Clothing & Rarities, graciously provided. Jenny Janzer - poet, visual artist, and owner of Most Pulp Press - arrived in her own striking makeup, and an incredible orange dress. I added a denim high-collar zip up jacket, an amazing one of a kind piece by local freelance designer Jess Wright. Jenny's features are incredibly dramatic and her strong spirit shows through her incredible gaze - there is a delicate but grounded weight to every photo she's in. Alicia Strong - budding artist and model - arrived in a delicate pink skirt and silver boots, and I layered a purple vintage dress from Annie's selections over it, as well as a bright orange puffy coat from H&M. I believe it was Olivia who brought the colorful cellophane she put around her neck, and it added a space-ship like quality to her form. Alicia's face blends the look of a serious philosopher and a wistful solitary wanderer. Jacqueline Stuhmiller, a professor of literature and medieval studies, modeled for the third time in the Plush Decay series. I have referred to her as a warrior goddess, but in this particular photo set - with her face in ultra-femme and shiny makeup by Claire Laurel - there is a more faery-like nature that emerges. I styled her in a soft pink skirt and hot pink ruffled dress, and she wore the orange puffy jacket for some of the shoot, too. A pink faux fur scarf from Goodwill graced her shoulders, and a simple belt gave the outfit an almost hour glass silhouette. Valerie Lighthart, a creative multi-hyphenate (filmmaker, writer, musician, photographer, actress) sported vibrant pink makeup by Michel'lay to accentuate her striking eyes and to create an exaggerated look. I styled her in my high waisted lavender wool skirt, and a pink graffiti top, with pink fabric as a scarf - both from Annie's selection. Valerie's soft pout and striking cheekbones contrasted well with the outfit's pastels. Her whimsical figure was at times fierce and at other times fantastical. Desiree, a singer and musician, brought a sultry mischief to the photos, while also being effortlessly comfortable and energetic. She came in an orange dress layered over a purple skirt, and I added a velvet purple blazer that local vintage shop Ladies of the Loon lent me. Her beautiful curls and wide expressive eyes brought drama and movement. Shauna Stamm is an up and coming model, who arrived in her own clothes and makeup - with her curly hair and the pop of color on her lips, she evoked a 90's teen movie sweetheart. Kayla, a beauty enthusiast and fantastic makeup artist, arrived with soft pink accents on her face and long beautiful hair. I styled her in a layered, almost Grecian dress from Annie's selections. Kayla's sweet and dreamy face added an ethereal, angelic element. Where Alicia's face grounds the viewer in a dusky meadow, Kayla's elevates to a world in between sky and earth, a lofty dreamscape of muted hues. Elizabeth Brunner is a lover of philosophy and an energetic human, with an angular face and doe-eyes that create a beautiful unease in the viewer - as if she is asking you a question no one has the answer to. She arrived in her tights and purple skirt, and she brought a flower button up which I layered underneath my Goodwill jean jacket. Kristen Lopez is a watercolor artist, who not only has modeled for us before, but has created beautiful pieces of art based on Plush Decay photos. I styled Kristen in a dress from Mary's Fossil Hunt Vintage shop, and an orange leather trench coat from Annie's shop. Later we changed wardrobes for her - she wore another dress from Annie's, a purple sequins treasure, and I layered the orange puffy jacket over it. Especially in Annie Grizzle's gallery, you can see how much her look changes depending on the lighting and wardrobe. I did her hair, messing it up and letting it loose for one photo, and tucking it up for another. Kristen at one point looks like a wide eyed girl - strong but naive - and in another, she looks every bit the self-possessed and fierce grown woman.
By now you'll realize I wanted to stick to a strict color scheme - pink, orange, and purple (with slight variations of blue). I wanted something ultra bright and vibrant, but more focused in that there were less patterns, so that it was more about the interaction of color rather than the contrast between prints. Beyond that, I was inspired by 3 things: this original piece by Midwest based fashion designer Amarie, The Garden of Earthly Delights by Hiernoymous Bosch, and Renaissance men's fashion. Now, I was inspired by all of these - but of course the end result becomes its own being and gathers a life of its own. At first my essential and boiled down idea for the shoot was ruffles and puffy silhouettes in space - but Jacqueline was reminded of Bosch's famous piece by the moodboard I sent, and asked if that was a part of the inspiration, too - and I thought "fuck, yeah." Of course, upon further thought I realized that most of the figures in said piece were naked - but by that point, I had sat down in a cafe and wrote this Petrarchan sonnet, after letting the idea "ruffled silhouettes in space, through a Bosch lens" swirl around in my brain.
Outtakes from the coldscape in space; so flat,
smooth, but freak rubble disrupts the stoney
eyes like spikes in the iris. I, lonely
old grubber, tangible mass of grey, spat
out by the colony. My robes of matte
violet, mouth deep orange, teeth gleam, only
glitter objects in the void. So closely
I walk with the shade. Muscles filled with rats,
ballooning with egodebris. Cosmos
a twin fatality to me, lovers
mix juices, the celestial climax.
With sad delight I am partly compost,
one of many rejected. With cover
of the undying clock, we move like wax.
Each of us are under so many different types of influence all the time. You work in a store that plays the same song over and over again and suddenly you know the words - or you eavesdrop naturally on someone's conversation about Planet Earth and later it pops into your head to watch it. In a similar way, I let the ideas above and the poem I wrote influence my styling decisions for the shoot. With a few exceptions, the styling was done in the moment - as the models arrived at staggered times, and the vintage clothes vendors brought their selections for me to consider. It was fascinating to peek in on Anja's class, this purple-lights room of posed models - "the sci fi room" as Jacqueline named it, recalling how foreign it felt, as she was one of the models who floated around with individual photographers, not involved at all in the group that was on display for the class. Thus it was a collaboration and also a separation, a chaotic and energetic flow of artists of various types. Both the group that was posing and the group that split up to get solo shots had different experiences, and it took each presence to create the results that you see here. But there's also a spiritual element that is hard to convey to you as a reader and viewer. It's the element of electricity that exists only during the hours we are collaborating together - it's pure joy for me, as curator, to bring some of my favorite people together in a space, and watch them work, mingle, laugh, connect, question, and create. With each shoot I learn something new, I develop and realize mistakes, and hopefully with each I am getting better at my role in this series. In this beautiful and complicated city - especially now, when wintry gusts of frigid wind and snowy surfaces make us take everything so slow - it's easy to want to hide away, it's easy to shrink into yourself. Don't get me wrong - there is certainly a time for that. I am simply immensely grateful that all 25 people involved in this event showed up with their space, talent, and time to create something in the depth of a decayed landscape.
what is crinkly?
why can hair be pulled back and not other things?
what makes a foot slant?
3 and 3
group in 2
blue bird denim and reflective metal
pink and metal make 2
does glue hold together a group or paste?
paper mache or maybe thumb tacks?
everyone hold the stick and walk together
breath gone, shriveling up like a raisin
how is it that certain substances can lack other substances to the point that the brain stops working which is really only a big deal to the brain if you think about it
only a brain would worry about itself stopping
palms together – religious connotations
palms have Christian references, do they in other religions?
What makes palms Christian?
Jesus was crucified, nailed through his palms
Are there other reasons?
Why is the point of insertion celebrated as a symbol?
The moment in which an inorganic material pierces something it shouldn’t
A bullet can be a piercing
Some piercings are cosmetic, yet some kill
What then, quantifies a wound by a foreign object?
Awash in light from truth-seeking bulbs, women-girls flirt with blinking camera eyes. Their beauty leaches color from everything and everyone around them, so they burst in oranges and chartreuses, disarmingly offset by a background of colorlessness: books with no meaning, chairs without purpose, monochromatic admiration. Because pretty is like that.
I want to make them soup. I want to make sure they stay as happy as they appear right now, to capture their moment and let them exist in it forever. They're young enough still to withstand the harsh gaze of onlookers, to feel good inside their bodies, to flatter whatever cloaks them. It's getting cold, I say, the soup I mean. But they can't hear me because I'm their future selves. I'm the Tarot card they haven't yet flipped over, probably shouldn't.
They're at that age where Santa Claus still visits, except he doesn't want cookies; he wants sex. They're wrapped like shiny gifts because Santa no longer brings presents. He gets them.
I remember being there, at the intersection of Sex and Innocence. Nobody stays there for very long. Just a blink of an eye, really. I want to warn them that what lies ahead isn't necessarily better, that they should linger, put their hearts on idle, look around, even when the light changes. But I am voiceless.
They stand in a circle, chattering. I can't know them if I look, but I can know them if I listen. "I'm 23," one says. "She's 27." They're almost familiar until I look up. Then they're aliens again, fresh off a starship where plastic brilliance and unbridled joy are rights that everyone enjoys. I'm sad because I know they won't be able to return, and it's much different here, on this planet.
At first they merely posed, equal parts diaphanous and uncertain. But then the light shifted and they found common ground, a shared thread that stitched them together: two missed a train, a third missed her great aunt's funeral, for no particular reason other than it was raining and the night before the stars were misaligned. A fourth missed something that had no name. Their friendship coalesced, their bond jelling over mutual appreciation of spoken brush strokes and painted words. Their hearts remained entangled long after the bulbs burnt out and people stopped looking. They went their separate ways: one went to dream, another to paint whitecaps on ocean waves, a third to study tigers. Still another stood in the street and defied cars. And every ten years they returned, gathering in a circle, swapping tales of complicated loves and births and passages and books they'd read and crooked umbrellas that failed to keep them dry. Time, merciless, foisted wrinkles and disillusionment, sapped resilience. But their friendship held them up. It holds them still.
- by Heidi Heimler
Do not play nicely
but hold still nicely
the pink light of embarrassment cradling her
as the tiger grasps her knee
as if not to eat her
but to know how to be
as nice as she,
this tiger, the last tiger waiting to be civilized
since it has survived.
She nods but she is not playing
the tiger is holding still
so that she may be nice.
She sits still
even as the tiger
unties her shoe.
- Anja Notanja Sieger
Annie Grizzle says
spread out like a kid
entice like a 60’s lingerie model in a nightgown pouring a sleep inducing glass of milk
Annie Grizzle says feet up on the chair
she likes right angles
legs are easels
on which to place the sign that reads your face
Annie Grizzle says whatever comes to mind when you think pray mantis
almost like a puppet
preying on motion from a monumental glare
is a pray mantis
she looks for unusually long coxa
- Anja Notanja Sieger