Words by Jennifer Campbell:
Taking G L A M O R O U S - the most memorable line from Fergie’s popular R&B hit (of the same name) as a starting point, I present and dissect the word “glamorous”.
The art institution perpetually readjusts its proximity to the term “glamorous”. Glamour carries an atmosphere of mysterious exclusivity, a useful tool for many an art gallery. Equally, the glamorous is avoided by the art world because of its association with decorative, skin-deep opulence, lack of restraint and an un-intellectual manner. The glamorous is too elegant to be trashy; too trashy to be elegant… it cannot win.
For myself, there is an alternative version of glamorous. In my mind I conjure up a wisened old figure, feminine but not exclusively female, whose solemn beauty is visibly tied to mortality, their flesh and bones clad in shimmer and faux-pearls. This figure could be a drag queen that had her day in the 1950s, embodying the atmosphere of faded British seaside towns and crumbling music halls. In this vision the glamorous is a symbol of the temporality of all identity. Equally, it is Edie Bouvier Beale, pining to live in New York City, in the 1975 documentary film Grey Gardens. In both these examples the glamour is DIY, invented by its owner via limited means as a substitute for the real. I locate these examples in opposition to a mainstream version of glamour, which is fearful and laden with rules, as symbolised by Fergie’s song. What all these examples have in common is an inseparable relationship to aspiration, mixing ambition with longing.
The origins of the term glamour come from magic, referring to a magic spell or illusion. Historically illusionistic glamour has been viewed as a manipulative and secretive power, often mistrusted by those in authority. From its use by the downtrodden as a last resort, to more empowering scenarios, what are the pitfalls that come with the acquisition of glamorous power? If one is named glamorous one can also be named unglamorous. Can something only be said to have glamour in comparison to something else having less glamour, binding it to a competitive landscape, where one person winning always comes at the expense of another losing? Or can it be less toxic, like a sport: an exhilarating game that gives all the players the space to show-off, rather than creating a set of impossible bench marks to be lived up to?