Accidental Icon: Helmut Lang's Slightly Different Take on Creative Destruction

“I don’t like to throw things away, but I also have the ability to end chapters of my life.”  Helmut Lang

Creative destruction is a process through which something new brings about the end of whatever existed before it. There is something about it as an economic term that makes me uncomfortable. In his current reinvention as artist, the designer Helmut Lang recycles articles and artifacts from his life and through the various processes he applies to his materials, strips away past associations and creates something completely new yet retains the essence of the old. It is still somehow vaguely recognizable. Lang’s work makes me think of a more satisfying descriptor than creative destruction: creative recycling. In Friday’s post I will tell you more about Lang’s current exhibition at the Sperone Westwater Gallery here in New York City. Today I want to talk about my neighborhood and creative recycling.

The retaining of the old but reconfigured into something never seen before, the use of materials that somehow have the imprint of history on them, is somehow more surprising and exciting to me than something completely new. In my neighborhood you can always hear music, murals are on buildings on every block and tapestries are woven into fences surrounding abandoned lots.  Music and art are the DNA, or the essence of my neighborhood.

In my life I have always been drawn to the edges and that includes where I have lived. There is something so dynamic, yet at times sadly tragic in changing neighborhoods. The creative destruction in these spaces does not often retain the richness of the histories and cultures that they have displaced, despite economic progress. There is much creative destruction going on where I live right now, but there is also some creative recycling because of vibrantly strong community organizations with long and deep historical roots which allows them to be nimble with a constantly evolving mission that has adapted to change. The pictures in this post were taken at a formerly abandoned public school in my neighborhood. The reinvented space now contains 89 units of affordable live/work housing for artists and their families with 3,000 square feet available for a resident gallery in addition to 10,000 square feet of non-residential space for arts and cultural organizations on the ground floor and lower level. It serves the community by creating permanently affordable housing for resident artists in a neighborhood at risk of gentrification. 

In a situation like this, there is often something to be gained by everyone. I will gain from the rich artistic and cultural production that will emerge from a space where artists do not have to worry about survival and have the freedom as I do to create. These sorts of initiatives create sustainability for long term residents and offer something to the new ones. There are implications here for fashion and the young versus old conversation. Marketing to an older market does not have to be at the expense of devaluing the young. Some brands like Dolce and Gabbana and Lanvin have responded by giving us intergenerational campaigns this season. They make me happy.

How do you “creatively recycle” to create a completely new look?




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