True West: KAROLIINA PAATOS’s American Cowboy

The music video for Madonna’s 2001 single “Don’t Tell Me” opens on the pop star strutting down a dusty American highway. A loud truck passes, blowing the cowboy hat off her head, while the frame slowly widens to reveal her on an automated walkway in front of a projection screen. Here, director Jean-Baptiste Mondino informs the viewer that Madonna is not really taking a lone walk in the desert and her dancers are not “real” cowboys. The camp fantasy of the cowboy – one of America’s great cultural myths – is so entangled with the reality of its actual occupation that the difference is hard to spot. Even real herders captured in harsh HD, like those of Finnish photographer Karoliina Paatos, reek of Billy the Kid. In her latest publication, American Cowboy, one expects the screen to drop with the turn of every page. It is as if Paatos’s cowboys are constantly tapping on the fourth wall, leaving smudges on the glass.

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America invented Hollywood, which invented celebrity, which invented reality television. Cynically romantic, these are its national tools of self-mythology, and they are especially effective abroad. The cowboy is America’s most renowned brand ambassador. A byproduct of its imperialistic “Manifest Destiny” spirit, he stands for everything that is dirty and “real,” from his fingernails to our fantasies. Paatos’s photograph of a cowboy figurine perched atop a dusty stereo captures his meta-existence, because it is as close to “the real thing” as those who still do this job. Even living-breathing cowboys tend to look like statues: cartoonishly masculine and comfortably ignorant – the strong and silent type. Galloping through dust and sunshine on the back of his horse, he smells of freedom. He has a good heart. An attraction to the cowboy is synonymous with an attraction to the USA’s concept of self.

This cultural fabrication is so potent that it drew Finnish Paatos to non-places in Nevada, Oregon, Arizona, Texas, New Mexico, and Idaho over the past six years. As she familiarized herself with cattle-tending families, hoop-earringed cowgirls, queer cowboys, and Miss Arizona Gay Rodeo contestants, the parameters of the myth turned out to be reductive, but its core irrefutable. Shot in the Great Basin area, American Cowboy is a granular representation of the cowboy’s contemporary existence. Alone at night, a man sits in the driver’s seat of his pick-up, his face lit by the glow of his laptop. A young girl poses contrapposto in a patch of earth littered with shotgun cartridges, her trucker hat printed with a stop sign that reads “STAHP.” These moments of banality highlight the gigantic gap between straw-chewing cowboy reality and a viewer’s coffee-table modernity.

But Paatos’s photographs are luminous and empathetic in a way that surpasses documentary. Like Madonna in “Don’t Tell Me,” her American Cowboy bathes in cold golden rays and runs Mother Earth through his hands. The photo book’s landscapes and portraits are all drenched in the BBQ sauce of Western surrealism. They depict the impact cultural fictions have on reality.

American Cowboy is published by The Angry Bat (Maribor, 2016).

Berlin Review 1
Karoliina Paatos
American Cowboy
The Angry Bat

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Issue #31 — Winter 2016/2017HELMUT LANG

Issue # 31 — Winter 2016/2017

From 1986 to 2005, Helmut Lang systematically deconstructed every assumption about clothing and the way it is worn and communicated. As he himself once said, “I kept all the traditions and shades that were good — and then re-thought it all.” The Austrian designer’s lists of “firsts” is so long it could double as conceptual art. Lang was one of the first designers to collaborate with visual artists. The first to show clothing for men and women in a single presentation. The first to pioneer backstage photography as we know it today with Juergen Teller. The first to move a fashion house across the Atlantic … and the list goes on. In a 48-page dossier, 032c Issue 31 explores THE HELMUT LANG LEGACY and how his abrupt exit from the industry in 2005 has been felt like phantom limb in the world of fashion. The comprehensive study features essays by Ingeborg Harms and Ulf Poschardt, a roundtable with Tim Blanks, Olivier Saillard, and Neville Wakefield, an interview with Lang himself, as well as rare material from the Helmut Lang archive.

Is Calabasas the new Abu Dhabi? Are the Californian suburbs the perfect place for new energy experiments in modern apparel? In an editorial shot by MERT & MARCUS and conceptualized by KANYE WEST, 032c travels to the Los Angeles exurb of Calabasas to bathe in the dust of the Wests’ under-construction home designed by Axel Vervoordt. The shoot features cameos by KIM KARDASHIAN WEST, KHLOÉ KARDASHIAN, AMINA BLUE, TRAVIS SCOTT, and others.

“At the time we started collaborating, everything in the world of art and fashion was polished. Everything was smooth, so we felt that Prada must be rough.” For the past decade, a windowless concrete hall at the PRADA headquarters has become an architectural gymnasium for REM KOOLHAAS and his firm OMA/AMO. Traveling from Rotterdam to Milan, architecture critic Jack Self examines the phenomenon of the firm’s catwalks for the Italian mega-house, exploring how Prada and OMA/AMO have teamed up to create the foundation of a new corporate aesthetic.

“You fuck. Or you don’t fuck. You can’t fuck a little.” In a 2012 reportage, writer Alexander Gorkow and photographer Andreas Mühe followed RAMMSTEIN on their tour of America. Since then, our private obsession with this document has become a matter of political urgency. What was once the anti-capitalist spectacle of an East German rock band in 2012, now reads like a seismograph for the right-wing political landscape of 2016. Here, we witness ideology’s opposite: raw energy unhinged from the burden of truth.

As our contemporary economy grows to demand CREATIVITY from all of its citizens, it has become increasingly unclear exactly what “creativity” is. In a double-feature illustrated by the Japanese photographer Kenta Cobayashi, Joachim Bessing speaks with Wolfgang Ullrich and Lars Vollmer on how society’s idea of a creative ethos has transformed within the digital revolution.

“People say this is vandalism.” 032c’s Bianca Heuser and photographer Nadine Fraczkowski take us inside ANNE IMHOF’s Angst, a grand and opaque artwork that has drifted across the world like a low-pressure system. Furnished with smoke machines, sleeping bags, razors, and bongs, the three-act immersive opera is a training camp for the denizens of hyper-capitalism.

Founded as sneaker blogs in 2005, HYPEBEAST and HIGHSNOBIETY have grown into large and disruptive forces in fashion. Simultaneously fuelling and gorging on a new generation’s appetite for content, they have set a rabid pace that has multinational brands following suit. Travelling up the feed and towards “the heart of content,” 032c’s Thom Bettridge and photographer Lukas Wassmann visit the companies’ respective HQs in Hong Kong and Berlin to suss out what this revolution spells for the landscape of media at large.

In the “SSENSE Files,” we present scenes of cross-platform madness from our work at ssense.com. The section features seven interviews with a range of cultural producers from rappers LIL YACHTY and SCHOOLBOY Q to jewelry designer GAIA REPOSSI, stylist ANDREW RICHARDSON, author NATASHA STAGG, artist SIMON DENNY, and artist/musician FATIMA AL QADIRI.

In our fashion section, WILLY VANDERPERRE and OLIVIER RIZZO shoot Clara 3000 in the editorial “Don’t Dream It’s Over.” GOSHA RUBCHINSKIY and 032c fashion director Mel Ottenberg team up for the ultimate study on Seinfeld-chic, while PIERRE DEBUSSCHERE and 032c fashion editor Marc Goehring vaporize Flemish baroque into a warped digital reality.

This issue, we also proudly introduce our “BERLIN REVIEW,” a section dedicated to our favorite printed matter of the season.

All this and more on 296 pages!