In honor of Women’s History month, Twilight Gallery debuted [S]HEROES: Side A, an exhibit of Jordan Christianson’s couture purses, each of which is an embodiment of the women musicians dearest to his heart. Roll that concept around in your brain a little, let it sink in because it’s hilarious: objects of hyper-femininity—with their yonic connotations of slits, flaps, cavities and zippers fulla teeth—based on rock-and-roll goddesses. So, first question: does Christianson demurely side-step the bag-to-vag connotation that’s staring him square in the hoo-ha? Not likely, when hyper-sexual, gender-bending electronica artist Peaches is one of his muses.
Christianson is the one-man show behind the brand Jonquil and Mr. Black, where he makes bespoke and high-end accessories and luggage by day, and clearly hunks down with his headphones by night. The works he creates as J & Mr. B are tony and elegant—great for your chic Bellevue-ian aunt, but not quite right for channeling Siouxsie Sioux. So, for [S]HEROES, Christianson conjures all of his couturier familiars: furs and metals, leathers and lace, satin and straw, wood and thermoplastics, and spikes them with a sense of humor that emanates from every fold and stitch.
There’s love in these funbags, in the form of high craftsmanship and winking details: the spiky, runic wooden handle topping Bjork’s bag, which is covered in thick brown fur—perfect for keeping your discman warm as you search for the Northern Lights. Yoko Ono’s box of creamy leather, with hand-painted text that sets us confounding, meditative tasks, a la her instructions for enacting performance pieces. To make his ode to Grace Jones, Christianson sculpted thermoplastic in the shape of a female torso, then molded the leather of his jet black purse around it, as if she’s emerging from within. A fetishistic, totemic object with which to summon the Queen of Gay Disco.
Some pieces seem to dive into the personas or histories of their performers, while others are surface engagements. The wedding-gone-to-hell jumble of shredded satin and lace that hangs from a gaudy gold chain (Courtney); the tropical hues of the open-topped raffia tote (Astrud), and the girly pink and tan of Dolly’s straw-and-diamonds bag; all are well-crafted, but they don’t tell us much about Christianson’s connection to the musicians, nor make us think beyond matching the object with the diva’s style.
More interesting are the ones that succeed in drawing us in on all levels and ask us to make connections between functionality, form, and female. That the hard plates and pointy edges of the Missy Elliot pyramidal bag would knock and poke against you as you moved is a constant reminder that it is there, and it is not moving for you. That you need a good minute to figure out how in hell you’d find something you put into the origami angles of the Nina Hagen purse—knowing Nina, there’s probably an extra dimension in there—is part of the homage and the fun. And that you’d slice your own arm open on the rusty edge of the saw blade strapped to the Wendy O. Williams bag is surely a reminder that destructive impulses cut both ways.
Then, to crown it all, is that paean to Peaches: that hot-pink furry muff, almost-but-not-quite covering the lips of a molded-leather vulva, topped with its tiny clitoral diamond. The perfect form-meets-function-meets-fantasy-meets-feminist, and a fitting end to Christianson’s first side of wearable love letters to his icons. Who will make the cut for side B? Here’s hoping we’ll see what Christenson would make for Cyndi, for Tori, Debbi or Janis, Lauryn or Janelle, Amy or Janet, Pat or Nina.