On Friday night, Maia Ruth Lee was privy to the challenge of managing fashion week logistics for events taking place all over the city. The artist had just walked in the Eckhaus Latta show over in Bushwick (“it was fun — I had a little bit of an underboob showing,” she said), and afterward hurried over to SoHo for a cocktail party celebrating her collaboration with Helmut Lang. “I was like guys, I have to go! I have an art show,” said Lee toward the tail end of the party at 40 Wooster.
Inside the raw space, guests included Julia Fox, Richie Shazam, Casey Spooner, Vic Mensa, Korean rapper CL and Salem Mitchell. “I’m here to support,” said CL, who’s in town until next week, gesturing to the woman standing next to her. “Asian girl support all the way. She’s the designer for the women’s line, and we’re friends.”
The brand’s new collection was displayed on racks wrapped with utility ropes, material mirrored in Maia Ruth Lee’s installation — formally, an “intervention” — in the center of the room. The sculptures are part of her “Bondage Baggage” series, inspired by luggage at airports, and explore themes around “labor, immigration, family, diaspora, self-preservation, privacy and travel.” The brand’s creative team reached out about collaborating after seeing her work (“Bondage Baggage” was included in the 2019 Whitney Biennial).
“I’m tucked into my art studio and doing my thing, so it felt nice to know that other people had their radars out and were looking at my work,” said Lee, who relocated from New York to Colorado last year during the pandemic with her family. “The entire [Helmut Lang] team really understood the integrity of what art is, and really valued the artwork-y part of the installation rather than being like, ‘we want you to decorate a space,'” she added. “As the conversation went on I looked at the clothes they were presenting and their brand pillars and I was like, oh, this collab actually totally makes sense, I love it.”
For Helmut Lang, the artist incorporated archival fabric and materials from the brand into her colorful sculptures, composed of luggage and boxes wrapped in various materials and bound with rope and tape. Lee also created a series of paintings, “Bondage Baggage Atlas,” which were inspired by the idea of deconstructing her baggage installations and hung on the walls of the SoHo space.
The physical installation was created in the space over the span of two days, and the artist integrated furniture into the series for the first time — an invitation for people to sit down and interact with the work.
“It breaks down this idea of practicality, utilitarian, which I feel like Helmut Lang is very much about, too,” she said. “So I wanted it to be used, I wanted it to be precious but not precious, and have duality of material. Which is very much how I deal with material in my own practice. A lot of materials I use are unconventional.”
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