Louis Vuitton showcases 200 trunks, 200 visionaries
As part of continual plans to celebrate the bicentennial anniversary of founder Louis Vuitton’s birthday, the House has invited 200 visionaries to realise 200 trunks in their own distinct visual language with a special exhibition.
Louis Vuitton is best known for its luggage trunks. Navigating the past decades in endless flirtations with various creative directors (as if lost in a surreal, splendorous dream), its original canvas leather body and metal frame have always triumphed against the test of times. It is, after all, the founding product that made the mark of 16-year-old Louis Vuitton who arrived in Paris by foot and started apprenticing under Monsieur Maréchal in 1837.
At the time, horse-drawn carriages, boats and trains were the main modes of transportation, and baggages were handled roughly. Therefore, custom design boxes and trunks had to be crafted according to clients’ wishes. They were an instant success in the beginning — a hallmark of a name that would continue to whisper along the streets of Paris, before making its mark of privilege and honour across the rest of the world.
For the 200th anniversary of the birth of its founder, Louis Vuitton invited 200 visionaries to realise 200 trunks in their own distinct visual language. Part of this line-up sees creative names — from some diverse fields in art and fashion, the sciences, sports, global causes and beyond — contributing perpetually mutating responses to the historic fashion item and reshaping what the accessory means in today’s saturated landscape of sound and vision.
They were all given a metaphorical blank canvas measuring 50 x 50 x 100 centimetres — approximately the dimensions of the original trunk that Louis conceived in 1858. This resulted in iterations that allowed the trunk to become more over-the-top and in-your-face, dispelling wonders of 200 separate and distinct ideas, each reflecting their humanity.
These pieces began exhibiting in Asnières, France (the Louis Vuitton family house and atelier) before it starts touring across the world, with Singapore as its first pit stop.
Part of the line-up includes curator Hans Ulrich Obrist, who is currently the artistic director of the Serpentine Galleries in London. Obrist conceived labour of work that expands on the ‘The Art of Handwriting’ — his Instagram project “intended as a conflation of analogue and digital”.
“It was the late novelist, critic, philosopher and semiotician Umberto Eco who spoke to me about the significance of handwriting, professing his concern that we are on the verge of losing it as great art. He told me that the art of handwriting teaches us to control our hands and relates to hand-eye coordination. It makes us compose the phrase mentally before writing it down. The resistance of pen and paper slows us down and makes us think. The unfortunate disappearance of handwriting is concurrent with the digital velocity that characterises our contemporary environment.”
“This endeavour to record, remember and reaffirm the idiosyncrasy of handwriting began when Ryan Trecartin and Kevin McGarry downloaded Instagram on my iPhone, whilst I was at Trecartin’s studio in Los Angeles. The overwhelming image potential that Instagram opened up prompted me to find a structure for its use. It was during a holiday with the artist-poet Etel Adnan, artist Simone Fattal and my partner, the artist Koo Jeong A, that this constraint became clear. On a stormy day, in a café, Etel was writing poems in a notepad, which I found incredibly beautiful.”
“It soon became evident that the preset should be the written word – a celebration of handwriting rather than lamenting its disappearance. Since then, I have posted photographs of handwritten notes on Instagram at least once a day, each containing a message from individuals I meet.”
Others looked towards history as a way to challenge our ideas as the world collectively navigates life during a pandemic. Creative director Ben Ditto “worked with scientists Marisa Zuk and Kenneth Robinson to revisit a previous pandemic; Cholera in 19th century Paris, during Louis Vuitton’s youth.”
“We sourced bacteria from the Vibrio cholera genus and used CRISPR-Cas9 technology to insert genes from two fluorescent protein plasmids into their DNA to express a bespoke glowing colour. We coated the trunk in horse blood agar, a bacterial nutrient, then painted the LV pattern on to the trunk using a suspension of the glowing bacteria.
After documenting the resulting glow, we denatured the bacteria using formaldehyde and encased the trunk in a vacuum-sealed package. To illustrate pathogenicity at the cellular level we also used a fluorescent dye conjugated to a cholera toxin subunit to tag the membrane of hamster ovary cells for view under a microscope.
A vital part of the molecular machinery that enables cholera toxin to bind human cells, this part of the toxin can nowadays be used as a delivery vehicle for pharmaceuticals and vaccines. The piece is a statement on the influence of infectious disease on culture, representing the possibility that biotechnology can transform a contagion into an aesthetic medium, or tool for future therapeutics.”
But even the exhibition calls for the serene, with fashion stylist Ibrahim Kamara contributing a vision of the trunk through the lens of nature. “I used the black base for the box to push ideas that I have already been experimenting with. The birds on the box feel as if they are returning to their nest.”
Others, like fashion designer Shayne Oliver, dabbles with fantasy. “Paying homage to the Caribbean sound systems I grew up with, and building on my distinct approach of transforming CDJ’s into an instrument to generate new soundscapes, Anonymous Club’s trunk takes the form of a music box in the modern age. Offering a more bespoke nature to the music box through electronics while preserving the charm felt through the classic object.”