Plush Decay means dying with fullness.
Our fourteenth installment is the most deeply collaborative yet.
It all started with the baby.
Sometime back in January, my friend Frankie posted a picture on her Instagram of her holding a glass-encased ceramic baby, in a little wooden display. I immediately commented and said "woah, can I shoot with that sometime?" Weeks went by with this strange figure on my mind (that she had found in her friend's basement). Sometime in February, I was introduced to the incredible Aria Pedraza through Chicago- based model Kat (@violitia). We met in real life at a cafe after messaging through Instagram and hit it off, realizing we were on the same wavelengths creatively and artistically. We talked concepts and collaborations. I mentioned "Well, there's this baby I want to do something with - maybe a funeral, or a memorial?" Aria and I got together one evening at my apartment and wrote some ideas down, developed it further. Originally this was just a concept I wanted to execute, not necessarily a Plush Decay shoot, but Aria suggested we make it such, involving a cast of models who each were styled from a different era or styled after a certain aesthetic. We also decided to keep all the clothing black (a big challenge for me) and leave the color of the hair and makeup. This was a new way of going about it for me, as usually it is multiple colors, or a setting, or the seasons that inspire the direction of Plush Decay productions. I welcomed her ideas, and it felt strange in a great way to have a co-parent to help guide and conceive this brainchild.
A strange little segue - we shot on March 24th (exactly a week after the previous Plush Decay with Antler, which happened on March 17th). I went to pick up the baby, messaging Frankie's friend, wondering where she lived. It just so happens that she lives in the EXACT same house where Antler lived for years with Jeff Poniewaz, where he wrote his most famous poem so far, "Factory". This baby that was the driving force behind the shoot came from the basement of the house which my PoetFather and one of Milwaukee's greatest poet's lived, years ago; and he was in the Plush Decay shoot literally the week before. It was a beautiful synchronicity, a good omen.
Aria and I split up the styling - she would do the makeup and hair, I would do the clothing. She developed moodboards for each models' makeup, and I chose the clothes to be as close as possible to each era or aesthetic. However, we realized how much work it would be to do involved looks for 7 people - so we sought out some artists to help us. Aria was makeup lead and communicated to each artist what her vision was, and they brought their palates and kits to achieve the look as best they could. Ashley Taylor, one of my sisters, came up from Beloit to help with makeup. She is responsible for Lola's striking look - dramatic winged eye given even greater effect by Lola's piercing green eyes. Lola - a sculptress and California based artist - came up from Beloit to model. Her character was inspired by the movie Black Swan, and Aria put her hair in a veiled ponytail, with a few wisps to achieve the ballerina look. I styled Lola in a silk black robe over a black dress with a belt, to achieve a feminine and delicate silhouette. Ashley did Alyssa's makeup as well - Alyssa's character was inspired by powerful Louisiana Voodoo queens, such as Marie Laveau (who Angela Bassett played in AHS: Coven). Ashley achieved a beautiful look on her with the rust colors over her eyes and nose - Aria finished off the look with a big animal skull head piece. I styled her in a black dress and a long velvet black robe that I borrowed from my friend Jules (who leant many pieces to me for this installment). Another artist on set was Joey, a MKE makeup artist and musician. They did some lovely gold work on Vaughan Larsen, photographer and frequent Plush Decay collaborator. Vaughan's character was the priestess and leader of this strange woodland memorial. I styled him in a loose deep V-cut dress and long robe, as well a necklace of chicken bones (which Alyssa also wore, to signify her spiritual power). All the chicken bones used in this shoot were a gift from Jules, who uses them in some of her striking art pieces. Joey also did Kristen Lopez's makeup - a colorful eye and Aria's handmade flower headpiece combined to make her Frida Kahlo-inspired look. I styled in her a high collared dress with piece of spider tulle tied around her waist. Sara, a MUA and friend of Aria's, did Christina's look. Christina is a young local poet - her character was inspired by Renaissance clothing, with corsets and lace, a feminine silhouette with touches of sensuality. I styled her in multiple textured pieces, some she brought herself and some from my collection (and Jules'). Sara did a beautiful and ghostly look, with a colorful eye to echo her pink hair, and pearls along her hair line to add a royal touch.
Claire Laurel, local videographer and artist, braided her hair with chicken bones. Sara also did Kirsten Meier's make up - a local model and visual artist, Kirsten's character was inspired by Lolita fashion and Kabuki theatre. Aria tied her hair up in bold, colorful flowers, and she arrived styled in a dress she had in her closet, a beautiful black high collared piece. Our seventh model is Valeriya, a budding local creative, whose character was inspired by steampunk fashion. I styled her in a top hat and buckled black jacket, borrowed from Jules, and a puffy skirt, with black gloves. I wrapped her hair gently around her neck, to appear as a scarf or a choker, and Aria had the brilliant idea of gently adhering flower petals to her face, to achieve an overall surreal character.
Most of the makeup and all the styling was done in my husband and I's apartment - the models, artists, myself and Aria, and Claire all buzzed around in the living room and kitchen, eating snacks kindly brought by Aria, talking, getting made up, listening to music, etc. We all drove to the location in our cars, and photographers Amanda Mills & JoJo West joined us there. We shot in the Riverwest woods, at the end of Chambers street. I knew Amanda was into dark fashion, so we asked her to shoot it - her portraits are often colorful, tender, and also powerful, which lent itself well to this installment. Amanda is a multi talented force, but also incredibly kind and humble, with a beautiful knack for collaboration. JoJo is a graphic designer, photographer, and just launched her own online publication, called the 1692 magazine. JoJo's work often has a glamorous and vintage air to it, and she is as great a stylist as she is a photographer. We thought her style would be a great second look on these models and the atmosphere. Her work features a diverse cast of MKE and NY creatives, and her bold and joyful nature brighten up any atmosphere. Claire, who helped with Christina's hair at the apartment, also made this beautiful video (link below, before photo sets) and she directed each model for their solo segments, trying to capture their character's essence. Check out more of Claire's video work here.
The baby itself, upon further inspection, bears these words in marker on the back - "Baby Jesus, 2002, by Tony (last name illegible)." A forgotten art piece, then, or maybe the creator didn't have room for it when they moved. One of the reasons it looks so bizarre is one of the hands is much tinier - it looks like as if it was replaced. In one hand is a bird skeleton, in the other a bird skull (did the body fall off or was it always just a skull?) The models in their styled characters gathered there in the chilly woods to mourn this strange art. A baby, of course, represents new life, and growth. A surreal, ceramic, holy baby in glass is a sort of skewed version of life. This tiny figure holds a symbol of delicate death itself in its hands, grasped, with one reach towards you, the audience. As members of existence we must adapt to this situation, one we never asked to be in. No matter what our background, we mourn the new born baby in us. We must grapple with the reality that we are long past this special, vulnerable and strange stage. A baby has endless possibilities, - it's a soft landscape, always being shaped and influenced. The marvel it feels when it espies new colors, or is entertained by something as inane as keys - there's a sense of wonder there that can be hard to regain. Through art and through falling in love (with people or with projects, passions, things, etc.) we regain shadows of those senses. No matter what your path is, and regardless of whether you are powerful, delicate, playful, serious, melancholy - the great equalizer for all of us change. Once part of the void, then born here, and the possibilities that lay before us are endless. Let this small baby Jesus, a strange little sacred figure made by someone out there, serve as a reminder that even as we grow we are dying - mourn your past if you must, but honor that change as a vehicle that got you where you are right now. You are holy still, as Ginsberg notes in his "Footnote to Howl." You are as sacred as you believe you are - and this blink of breath is too short to be anything but entranced with the magick of your self.
AMANDA MILLS @SUNSHINE_ACID PHOTOSET:
JOJO WEST @the1692.mag PHOTOSET: