This time three weeks ago, I was in Edinburgh speaking at a symposium devoted to critically exploring the influence, impact and legacy of Grace Jones as actor, model, musician, entertainer and icon. It was hosted by Edinburgh University’s College of Art and was the second in an ongoing international series devoted to exploring the topic of ‘the iconic’. Grace Jones followed last year’s acclaimed Pet Shop Boys symposium where once again, academics and enthusiasts from across the world gathered for a series of keynote talks, presentations and films that examined different facets of Jones’ life and work.
My lecture, entitled ‘Demolition Man’, was perhaps unsurprisingly focused on design, and more specifically on how Grace Jones’ image has been manipulated and stylised with French art director and photographer, Jean-Paul Goude. It is a somewhat controversial subject, fraught with criticisms that the photographs flirted with potentially racist and sexist themes. There’s no denying that the images may be flawed, but my presentation focused on how Jones herself has indicated that she was never a victim to manipulation and was a complicit partner in the radical visual experimentation that transformed her from underground disco diva to worldwide notoriety and fame.
It seems that there was a meticulously planned method in the madness, and it worked. If you’re interested in the full story, I would suggest that you read issue 33 of Classic Pop magazine that was published the same week as the lecture and features my five page Pop Art feature on this very subject.
It’s never easy standing up in front of a room of academics and enthusiasts who often know your subject better than you do yourself, but I’m glad I did it. I was amongst esteemed company, with other lecturers travelling from all over Europe and the USA. We were also treated to the UK premiere of the Grace Jones film, Bloodlight and Bami followed by a Q&A with its director, Sophie Fiennes. The two-day symposium was fascinating and it was really interesting to meet new people and receive some lovely feedback on what I had to say.
Sometimes one has to do things that feel a little bit outside the comfort zone but since I set up my own design studio a decade ago, it’s the things that are the most challenging that have often ended up being the most rewarding. Long may it continue…