I met the cultural icon Michèle Lamy and film director Matt Lambert before their performance at Julia Stoschek Collection in Berlin. We didn’t speak for long – they were busy with final rehearsals, after all – but hearing them talk about their collaboration and friendship (while Michèle nursed a tea and Matt collected his thoughts after only three hours of sleep), I realized: Following your dreams takes so much passion and devotion, but when it’s time to finally let the audience into your world, all the sweat and tears give way to an elation like no other. Until the next project, of course.
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FROM BUTT MUSCLE TO INFINITY: MICHÈLE LAMY AND MATT LAMBERT
With Berlin Art Week coming to a close today, the city’s aficionados are either curing their hangovers or suffering from exhaustion (or both). All the openings, dinners, talks and art were a lot to take in. But the expansiveness is also where Berlin’s artistic prowess shines the brightest: call it cultural maximalism, if you will.
This phenomenon is elevated when disciplines meet – as was the case with Reference Festival, the interdisciplinary platform organized by PR agency Reference Studios that aims to explore the different aspects of creativity as a whole. Titled Infinitude, the festival’s sixth edition featured a series of exhibitions, talks and performances reflecting the diversity of Berlin’s cultural scene.
Just how well this interdisciplinary approach works was demonstrated by Michèle Lamy and Matt Lambert. The eccentrically-dressed Lamy is the partner of designer Rick Owens and runs the company with him (her official title is “Founding Partner and Managing Director Art/Furniture Owenscorp”). Together with Berlin-based Lambert, she transformed the rooms of the Julia Stoschek Collection into a post-apocalyptic setting: fog, lava, distorted voices and writhing bodies combined to create an impressively immersive experience.
Infinite II is not the first collaboration between the two creatives. Since 2017 the two have collaborated on-and-off for Lamy’s music project, Lavascar. The resulting films and performances are characterized by a sexual and often abysmal energy. What seems dark at first glance, however, in fact has a positive message – not least because Lamy and Lambert have so much fun putting these stage spectacles together. EX LIBRIS met with the two a few hours before their performance.
How did you guys meet?
Matt: I made this pornzine called Vitium, which was years ago. And then fashion critic Diane Pernet connected me with Rick. Rick wanted to use one of the images on an invitation for his Walrus shows. Then he invited me over to come to their place. And that was an intimidating space to walk into – Michèle was just sitting there with fashion designer Gareth Pugh. Rick didn’t come for a while. I was really nervous and they fed me with giant glasses of red wine. Rick eventually joined and the end of the night he said we should do something together. They had a photo of performer Christeene on the wall, so we said, “Let’s work with her.” We then made this film called Butt Muscle. That was our first collaboration featuring Michèle and Christeene as a duo.
Michèle: He put us together – with a lot of lube!
Matt: We had Michèle flying and kissing with Christeene while Christeene was peeing in Rick's mouth. And yes, Michèle was naked and covered in lube. It was pretty wild.
Michèle: But it was all so pleasant to work with Matt in the studio.
You started out pretty hardcore. Did you take it a little easier for your next project?
Michèle: After Butt Muscle I wanted our collaboration to continue. So we shot something in our furniture factory just outside Paris. We pushed all the machinery away. But I hated that movie at first. It was a nightmare. The idea was for me to have a daughter that was not my daughter. I just didn’t like the story at all! But this magician here, Matt, he just made it click.
Matt: That was part of Michèle’s music project, Lavascar. We did a music video for one of her tracks. Michèle didn’t like it. And we said, “Whatever, let’s come back to it in a few years.” Then Arca, the Venezuelan DJ and musician, did a remix of a Lavascar track and we decided to re-edit the whole thing. While also adding in the poetry of Etel Adnan. The result is Infinite – the film we’re showing downstairs.
Etel Adnan’s poetry often has a political element – is that why you turned to her?
Michèle: I always work with poetry for Lavascar. Before it was all Langston Hughes. But when I was working on the new album in 2018, I visited the Yves Saint Laurent Museum in Marrakesh. That’s where I discovered her work. I’m surprised I came onto Etel so late – she's somebody I should have known about much earlier! Her words say much about the concept of infinity.
Matt: The texts from Etel that we used most are about the cyclical energy of life. A lot of my projects are about mothers and daughters – and in Michèle’s case having her act as the mother and daughter. We’re flipping the dynamics a bit.
What can visitors expect from tonight’s performance Infinite II?
Matt: Again Lavascar is the soul of what we’re doing – with contributions by Arca and Ryoji Ikeda. And once again we’ll use words from Etel Adnan as text. So it’s a continuation of Infinite. But it’s also a live performance for which we put together a whole troupe. And our sound engineer Jane Arnison has built this amazing device – a voice modulation ring – so there’s also a lot of interesting tech.
Michèle: ...which is perfect for me, because I just put it next to all my other rings!
Matt: It’s a performance, but it’s also very experimental – for me, at least, coming from the world of cinema. And I work with dancers a lot, but cinema is my space. Here I’m building this kind of living cinematic scene so it’s not really following the dramaturgy of a dance piece. It’s the first time we’re manifesting something from the ground up – and then Michèle being like “Here’s the world you’re going to enter,” and us kind of slotting that in. She really trusted me to build this, and then she arrived and we tweaked it a bit. But we still held on to the core of what we made. It’s very much about a reincarnation of sexual spirit.
Michèle, what are you trying to do with this that you haven’t done before?
Michèle: I’m always trying to push boundaries. I’ve been doing performances for some time now and they are all manifestations of what’s going on inside my head. What we’re showing tonight is a continuation of that story. Matt has been really good at dragging me into a world where I feel at home. He’s pushing me, but I don’t feel surprised or overwhelmed by what we do. It’s a world that I feel extremely comfortable in.
Matt: We both learn a lot from this process. In the past I might asked myself whether Michèle was going to like this or that. Now we have a shared language. And from my point of view, I think a lot of people might be intimidated by Michèle. So when people shoot her, they always put her on a pedestal. And we get really dirty together. I seem to be able to push that more out of you [Michèle] than someone you just met. They wouldn’t have the guts. I hope I’m pushing you enough – if not I can push even more.
Michèle: I hope it’s going to be more!
Matt: We’re not precious.
Both of you say the other is building a world. To me that sounds like you, in fact, are collaboratively creating a world for the two of you.
Matt: And it’s only getting bigger. The people who come into it start playing in this world and then it becomes something new.
Do you have any particular takeaway for tonight’s attendees?
Michèle: There’s so much going on in the world right now – especially when it comes to climate change. Everything feels so heavy at the moment. But it’s important to not lose our joy. The conversation shouldn’t be all about what’s terrible. So there’s a lot of life and joy in tonight’s performance... and love.
Matt: At the surface it’s a violent and sexually-charged piece. But I think the takeaway is a focus on joy and love. It’s an optimistic piece.
Editor: Hans Bussert (V.i.S.d.P.)
Art Director: Enver Hadzijaj
Designer: Katarina Stefanakos
Copy Editor: Redfern Jon Barrett
© 2022 EX LIBRIS Hans Bussert
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