239 Things

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Studium Generale 1000things lectures, The Hague

239 Things

The Lobster Clasp (1) – A Forgotten Mechanism (2)

Oversized fingers struggle to hold the delicate clasp hidden behind the neck. Hair strands become a forest for the fingers to fiddle through. Your cumbersome thumb repeatedly attempts to hold the tiny lever down long enough to hook the ring but always slips too soon. (3)

The clasp is as important as the pendant it holds. (4)


Taking the necklace off is always easier than putting it on. Your thumb does not slip. The ring leaves the hold of the clasp easily.


The larger forms of the lobster clasp sit comfortably in the hands. The internal mechanism plays a sound as your thumb presses down the lever for the opening to widen and then snaps closed when released.

The tactile action of repetitively pressing the lever and releasing it gives a simple sense of satisfaction until your thumb aches from this childish play.

Like clicking the end of a biro, the spring is made tired.

Your thumb is left with a little dent where the tip of the lever has rested.

Sporadically your finger is caught in the gap that the lever moves within.

The exhausted muscle in your knuckle stops you from pressing the lever again. The cheap metallic smell it leaves on your hands is sweet yet unpleasant, toxic and irritating, a reminder of the material’s industrial qualities. (7)

When the lobster clasp finds itself attached to a bag strap, there is tension along the chain the clasp has become a part of. The weight of the bag pulls the clasp to move accordingly. (8)

When the bag is not held the clasp lies lifeless. In the future the clasp will outlive the bag, yet will still be made redundant, as it is no use on its own. They rarely exist alone. (9)

A middle-sized lobster clasp can be found hidden amongst a cluster of keys at the end of a key ring.(10)

The various sized clasps form a family of differing personalities and purposes all based on the elegant shape of a lobster’s pincher claw. (11)


The lobster clasp is an elongated version of the classic ring clasp. The modifications were made in the late 1970s to make the new body sturdier than its predecessor. It is commonly found on western jewellery, keys rings and on bag straps.


Like the hinge on a door or the brass studding along the edge of a leather armchair the lobster clasp simply functions, often unnoticed or hidden.


The clasps are designed to exist firmly closed. Like the form of a book, it rests as a closed object but is redundant if it remains like this. The difficulty in opening the clasp is an inconvenience yet offers assurance and security.

The clasp should be at the front and made a show of.


The word clasp has a sense of urgency or importance about it. The clasp on a necklace can hold someone’s most sentimental belonging. The hidden clasp is as precious as what it holds.


If the metal hook on dangly earrings were a lobster clasp it would solve the problem of the butterfly falling and disappearing. But perhaps butterflies are better suited to sit behind the ear and a lobster, to secure, hold and protect an adornment of the neck.

The lobster clasp is shaped like an ear but an ear clasp doesn’t seem like something that would snap close or hold anything too tightly.


In eastern cultures the lobster clasp is not used as much. In some places an adjustable string and thread mechanism is used and in others knotting mechanisms are used to adjust necklaces over the head and tightened accordingly.


This elegant three-part object is the result of several perfected industrial manufacturing processes. The shell is stamped out from a strip of sheet metal and spat out by a customised dye. Leaving behind a train track like pattern along the strip, the shells fall amongst an anonymous pile. Three shells are picked by hand and placed into a mould to be folded with exact precision. They begin to take form and are welded individually. The lever is pressed into shape and the spring coiled.

The shell, lever and spring are pieced together. From a thin strip of sheet metal a three dimensional form is made.


The addition of a rotary base permits the clasp to function better.


The clasp mechanism is always attached to another form, a door hangs off the hinge like a parasite and fabric smothers the anatomy of an umbrella.


Again, it has company. Sharp crocodile teeth cut keys are fed on to the clasp. The rotary base joins the clasp to an assortment of keys rings and personalised objects, memorabilia, branding, collections, rubbish, the unused and the unnecessary. The surrounding objects play a sound unique to that particular organised accumulation. There appears to be competition amongst the disarray, between sentiments and functionality.


A moving lobster cannot be ignored but the resting lobster clasp can go unnoticed.

‘The Way We Wore’ is one of my favourite fashion books. It’s about ‘black style then’, about the clothing of black people in the 60s, 70s and 80s, and it’s groovy. All these photos show radiant, self-conscious people in a certain look. Subjects range from a coloured head cloth to a series of passport photos of a boy as he grows up, in which a little collar, a golden chain, a turtle neck or a radical change of hairdo betray a careful choice of fashion. A designer piece turns up now and then. Compiler Michael McCollom asked a hundred friends and acquaintances to send their personal photos. The pictures are from family albums or fashion magazines, everything is mixed together as they are at pains to show that fashion is not about clothes but about style and attitude. Style is much more democratic than fashion, because you make it yourself and, if necessary, with a minimum of means. These people eagerly go through their wardrobes every morning: what to wear? The joy emanates strongly from these pages. In the preface, the compiler writes about the love of clothes within the black middle class he grew up in: We had outfits for school, we had outfits for picnics, we had outfits for church, we had outfits for holidays. Both his mother and his grandmother were an inspiring example. Generally, everyone was very concerned with their image, and knowing what to wear when was the key to success.

What catches the eye is that both the cliché and the experiment are celebrated. Pink is clearly a privileged colour and fur and gold are not shied away from either. A woman poses with a leopard tied to a bracelet. A black woman with her brown legs in nylons, that seems a little redundant, for weren’t nylons once invented to lend some tan to pale legs? But that is not the issue here. It is mainly the attention to detail and the overall meticulousness that stand out. A orange suit is matched with ditto shoes and to top it off, a shawl around the neck makes a bowtie. No black shoes are seen here because they would fit anything, no, every part complements the rest to arrive at that unique, own style. With an enormous turban around the head, sixteen year-old Karonda looks you in the eyes. The courage to be noticed, to live colourfully, that is what this book is about.

One should not enter a room and expect ambiance; one should enter and become it.



Mud - mother of all materials? Dirty and unscrutable.
Ceramicists lovingly/jokingly refer to their material as mud and admire both its ability to be formed into an object and likewise to crumble.

“Uit de klei getrokken” (translates from Dutch to: drawn from clay) is an intriguing rudimentary cup and saucer set. The designer, Lonny van Rijswijck, used various sorts of Dutch clay. Thanks to the baking process, variations in colour and texture are made visible. A pale yellow hue from Limburg, a shiny brown from Utrecht, Brabo terra cotta. It’s these differences that, according to the creator, visualise the “impressive but unpretentious similarities between origin and identity”

As an artistic concept it’s exceptionally effective. In terms of functionality and form it’s not quite as successful. In other words, the concept materialised through tableware raises a legion of issues. Not in the least by its material.

Set, Lonny van Rijswijck

A cultural and historical interpretation:
In Items 1993/2 I asked Benno Premsela, authority on design, about possible reasons for the – at that time – undervaluation of Dutch designers. Premsela had already given up hope. How could this country of “redistributors of sand and mud” match themselves to countries like Italy and Finland? Needless disdain! Clay is derived from mud that despite it’s simple image, might be the mother of all materials.

Outside of Europe, mud also has its uses: like in the bogolans, clay paintings from Mali, where imposing structures are built using clay. During Mali’s celebration of its independence in 1960, the need arised to swiftly produce festive clothing. The Malinese rediscovered the bogolon techiniqque with which mud was used to print patterns in deep black onto fabric. As a result, yearly competitions were held to determine which region made the most exquisite bogolan. In the seventies, Malinese artists and fashion designers began to seriously apply bogolan. Besides deep black, brilliant white prints were made.

Chris Seydou Mud Decoration Dress
The fashion designer Chris Seydou presented his winter collection in Paris in 1979 with bogolan shawls and headwear in Keith Haring-like motifs. The Nigerian fashion designer Alphadi broadened the bogolan spectrum with blue, green , and even pink. By the time Seydou died in 1994, bogolan had achieved the same status in Mali as batik had in Indonesia.
Chen Zhen, World in out of the World, 1991
Back to the source, mud. For his installations, the French-Chinese artist Chen Zhen (1955-2000) covered rubbish with a layer of mud. By covering these objects from our world of the disposable, Chen removes all technological glamour and in turn, deculturalises them. The mud erases the purpose of the objects and allows them to return, purified, to their origin in , to their heart and soul.

“I don’t care it’s muddy there/it is my house [...] My heart cries out for muddy water.” – Bessie Smith

Muddy Water

Bessie Smith and her Blue Boys, Muddy Water, A Mississippi Moan Parlophone 78
​Broken idealism in S/S 13 ISLAND 1
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​Broken idealism in S/S 13 ISLAND 1

Fashion changes it's colour, theme and look every season often at the speed of a falling star. Within this frantic hurry, some things tend to go unnoticed.

Fashion designer Rick Owens asked artist Paul Kooiker to make a look book and even before someone looked over it, it was already out of fashion. Owens is considered a strange gothic bird within the fashion world. His clothes are tough, wearable, put up with big areas and most of the time black. The shoes often look like army boots and the jackets are styled like motor jackets. Owens clothes breathe a tough, androgynous erotic look yet his main customers are women either from Paris or Tokyo often a slim size 36.
​Broken idealism in S/S 13 ISLAND 1

He does things his own way. You will never see his clothes advertised in the pages of Vogue or Elle, why? Because he doesn't advertise. He describes his style: ‘I try to find very classical and graceful lines but in a primitive way.’ He doesn't hold a degree in fashion and after two years of art school he immersed himself into the nightlife of Los Angeles. ‘I was a part of this wicked Hollywood Boulevard hustler bar world. I hung around people like Goddess Bunny, a dwarf friend of mine, and Mr. Beanbag in super sleazy, crystal, tranny hustler bars just off Hollywood Boulevard, a couple of blocks from my studio. It fitted in with my aesthetic of broken idealism.’1

Owen’s clothes with its raw edges seem to be attractive for fashion people in a cool, fancy centre. In an interview with the German magazine Plastik he mentions Kooiker and Brancusi as two sources of inspiration. A strange couple: the classic, pure eternal values seen in the sculptures of Brancusi contrasting against the photo's from Paul Kooiker, where women pose in messy, raw and unattractive scenes. His floor is still covered with boxes of Polaroid's he used to make the test photographs. Owens then invited Paul Kooiker to make a look book from his accessories. Eventuality Kooiker realised he was allowed to do what he wanted,'I had more freedom then I get from a gallery owner', chuckled Kooiker.

​Broken idealism in S/S 13 ISLAND 3

Even though the boundaries between art and fashion seemed to have disappeared, there are still other principles in fashion. Where artists seek for the boundaries of shame, beauty or social moral. Fashion always stays within the areas of seduction, the look of getting a positive response.

If Viktor and Rolf change the body structure by letting the body spill out in unwanted places, the models will walk on the catwalk like the hunchback of the Notre Dame. But that won't be a reason to turn away. The models are beautiful and you know that they have perfect, slim bodies underneath their clothes. It is a game when the eye generously rewards, instead of blocks. In the March edition of Vogue, a pregnant model poses in the report Centre of Attention that focuses on the naked waist. The pregnant abdomen looks beautiful and you know it will never become stretched or start to sag. To be more exact, the reader of Vogue has no reason to be afraid of these 'un-existing' imperfections. Guts in fashion is always appetizing. Behind every photo shot you find a team producing the concept to perfection. Even the sabotaging of this perfection is considered and that is what makes it boring and lifeless.

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A fashion report I will never forget was with men working on an oil platform, all wearing beautiful dresses. So far from normality yet so close to it, the only difference being the men where wearing expensive haute couture dresses, there was no made up scenery. This rare moment where fashion walks into the unpolished reality, most of the time you see tropical islands lined only palm trees. Owen’s describes how he ‘wanted to make something beautiful and I find that most profound beauty is grounded within something real.’

Alec Soth, Minnesota
In the time of the cross-over, time boundaries are softened and the mutual areas of disciplines get all the attention. The photographer Alec Soth produces the fashion magazine Paris-Minnesota and saw the invitation he received from Magnum as an opportunity to play with fashion. Still the concept remained week in his eyes: ‘the truth is that we did not have time for new ideas’. Working within a team also is hard for him. However the space between him and others is what fascinates him and that the tension seems to go away when you work in a team. Eventually Soth chooses to reveal the grey area between his own world and the world of fashion, Minnesota versus Paris. The photo shoots were held in his native area of south America, varying them between landscapes and portraits of locals.

Helmut Newton

Photographer Helmut Newton loved to work with models and fashion shoots. He worked with the very best teams, the best mannequins and the most expensive equipment. Why? Wouldn’t you if you had the chance?

Why you would not is shown in S/S 13 ISLAND from Paul Kooiker, the accessories look book from Rick Owens hardly shows a bag or shoe in it. The look book cover is of a woman leaning uncomfortably over an old leather seat on a twist leg? Her black hair hides her face and her belly is shown bulging and marked. She wears heavy black boots, forming a silhouette against the sky. On the ground lies a forgotten pile of photographs and in the background lurks an old filing cabinet. The second photo seems to be like the first but is not in focus, like a nervous assistant shaking on ladder had made it. The white areas of the blurry body and the white background dominate. The shoes are vague, black spots and then looking at the mess on the floor in the studio, you discover bags and wallets and then in the background the bulgy bag with thebookkeeping of the photographer. Women are laying on their fronts whilst putting their booted feet up in the air. The central part of the photograph reveals the soles of the boots, behind this you see a pile of soft, moist flesh. A number of thighs squished together to form a smiling line in the image. The cardboard box wrapped in ostentatious tape in which the expensive accessories were packaged remains. Pieces of paper are strewn everywhere. Each and every picture looks like a crime scene, an uncomfortable place, somewhere to avoid. It's a picture book that will scare away the viewer, rather than engage them. In this raw reality of the studio with the not so fashionable models the rationalisation of bags and shoes starts to unfold.

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These are insane pictures, gritty, obscured, black and white images. Desperate and utterly human. Kooiker seeks the uncomfortable and his lookbook achieves this whilst turning away from the usual fashion vernacular. If you are already familiar with Kooiker’s work, you see how he falls back to his own style with this project. The studio with chunky models and the shoes that come with it. He has taken the shoes and bags and placed them within the context of art and then taken the imagery hostage. Kooiker first tested this with his phone, just to gain an idea and immediately saw the magic of the imperfect composition. He also shot the rest with his phone and then put the shoes and bags back in the boxes and then returned them. It was as simple as that.

I asked Kooiker how he dared to do that; "You don't always have to watch when you take a picture because that control is very annoying. You have to shoot straight from the feeling for that moment. It is intuitive and from that trust it then gives you something. Fashion needs loss of control.”

In Paris Minnesota you see a beautiful landscape. In the distance you will find a red bag resting in a on a pile of rocks . The bag is almost invisible but the landscape is magical and that atmosphere of beauty surrounds the bag. You want it, empowered by the landscape. Fashion is a fairytale where you can see yourself in a fantasy, as almost hiding out in a dream.

Kooiker puts his mark in the sand, and turn the whole image around. The viewer is now placed in a nasty, strange place. The weird anonymous scenes make you soon forget the shoes and make you want to look away, but still you are still gazing over the image, just like a voyeur.

Kooiker then took the photographs to his usual designer, Willem van Zoetendaal who then selected 16 images of the 20 images, positioned them and simply yet boldly bind the book with a red thread.

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A pile of a 100 look books where left in every shop selling Owen’s items, as an extra gesture to the customer. Owen’s has made a personal statement about fashion, within a book given out to customers. All of which have disappeared from sight very quickly.

‘I try to make clothes the way Lou Reed does music, with the direct use of minimal chord changes." Words that are relevant to S/S 13 ISLAND of Kooiker, which is more a 'zine' than a look book.

And this is how Rick Owens reacted:

the images

Thanks Rick

1Quote by Rick Owens

Castle, nightclub, palazzo.

Esquire, duke, baron.

Industrialists and rock chic.

Jazz pianists, acrobats, Coco Chanel.

Eight hundred quart bottles of the finest champagne, sparkling in the morning sun.

The soft caress of mink and sable furs.

Tuxedo and black tie.

Celebrities flanked by a leashed cheetah or lion cub.

The squirrel monkey painted blue on the shoulder of the host, the dazed boa constrictor nestled in the bosom of the marquis.

Yves Saint Laurent, Pierre Cardin and Christian Dior.

Salvador Dali’s walking stick of old Catalan walnut, tapping the beat of a waltz; red ants crawling between the space in the double glazing of his spectacles, Amanda Lear at his side.

Walking, arm in arm, with Kees van Dongen, Tristan Tzara and Marcel Duchamp: the Count and Countess of Noialles.

‘A lost world,’ as Nicholas Foulkes describes the costumed balls once popular in the world of the old nobility, haute bourgeoisie and artists.

‘Holding a ball is not the same as having a ball’’, Baron De Rothschild declared in the memoirs he wrote towards the end of his life as a banker. The wealthy lover of extravaganza carefully summed up each step necessary in the preparations for a successful costumed ball; from the table arrangements to the flower pieces, the proper lighting and decorations to the choice of invitees and the menu. As Rothschild describes, it appears that the organisation of a high concept party is equally complex and complicated to that of a museum exhibition, military operation, or theatre piece.

The host or hostess must never lose sight of the ultimate goal: the escape from grim reality through jubilant escapism. ‘Is it not our duty to,’ wrote Rothschild, “each to their own style and taste, enrich life with all that is superfluous and lush, and to embellish it with those few short flashing moments of elusive beauty?’

The ball as a carefully orchestrated moment of ecstasy, a whirlwind of luxury, beauté, volupté, a hyper stylized flight into another time, a finely construed Gesammtkunstwerk, as ephemeral as the thin fragrance of a jasmine perfume from the Shanghai delta... to escape one’s self is to live twice as intensely.

Style is everything, wrote gutter poet Charles Bukowski (‘Style is the difference, a way of doing, a way of being done./Six herons standing quietly in a pool of water,/ or you, naked, walking out of the bathroom without seeing me.’)

Style is what makes the ball’s invitees different from the ordinary man.

Style is what restrains the partygoers in their costly costumes from degenerating into a dishevelled drunken stupor.

You won’t find them in a back alley with their black tie hanging at their navels and besmirched with stains from the evening's lobster meal, torn spaghetti straps fluttering in the cool morning breeze, shouting from rooftops or stumbling through hysterical androgynous declarations of love for Amanda Lear.

In his erudite study of the sociology of the ball, Nicholas Foulkes comes to the conclusion that he who dons the costume of a seventeenth century sun king, disguises himself as Baron Charlus from Marcel Proust’s À la recherche du temps perdu, or she who makes herself up to be a mysterious princess from beyond the Bosphorus finds their delirium within the perfection of their stylization.

He selected photographs from parties including the Romanov Ball in 1903 in Saint Petersburg, where almost every guest was a member of the Russian nobility, and the Proust Ball, organised by Rothschild in 1971 where a curious mix of low nobility, pop stars, children of the Extremely Rich (‘spoiled brats’) and famous writers and movie stars dotted the ballroom.

The Proust Ball is where royal photographer and aesthete Cecil Beaton viciously mentioned Elizabeth Taylor’s shockingly vulgar appearance, ‘a geriatric Cinderella with plump, rough hands and an oversized diamond hanging around her neck.’

After this, Rothschild said, it seemed as if an end had come to an era.

The temporary nature of the ball is similar to the temporary nature of intoxication. All that remains is, cliché of clichés, the memories. The after images that nestle themselves within the hard disk of the mind are those of the hypnotic mise-en-scène, the decor that immerses the guest into another time period, not to mention the artful delights produced by the Chef, the blindingly beautiful costumes and the quicksilver je-ne-sais quois sensation so characteristic of all festive occasions where champagne flows freely.

It’s precisely this fleeting, short-lived moment that photographers like Man Ray, Cecil Beaton, Baron de Meyer and Horst P. Horst managed to capture, in a way so very different from the average party.

Take a look at the footage reminiscent of Eyes Wide Shut, shot by Jacqueline de Ribes, cousin of Count Étienne de Beaumont, the mastermind behind many widely spoken about balls from 1915 to 1955. At Don Carlos de Bestegui she appeared thrice, flanked by two women of the same height and posture, hidden behind identical masks, dressed in the same gowns, adorned with the same jewels and headdress. An impressive feat at styling, a perfect disappearing act of the ego, a true work of art ‘that comes to life for merely a few hours, that illuminates the night in all its multicoloured splendour and is doused by the first light of the slowly creeping grey-pink dawn’. And that’s exactly how it must have been. What a shame we weren’t there.

*Nicholas Foulkes, Legendary Costume Balls of the Twentieth Century. Assouline Publishing, New York, 2011.

Foulkes wrote the luxuriously published Legendary Costume Balls of the Twentieth Century, in which nine legendary balls are examined in word and image.