catalogue essay by Doreet Levitte Harten for the exhibition HEAVEN , 1999

In 1986 Justen Ladda produced an installation with the title Art, Fashion and Religion, which consists of an allusion to Michelangelo’s Pietà, fashion mannequins and geometrical shapes. The “Pietà” was constructed from packages of household goods, similar to the Tide packages from which he reconstructed the famous hands of Dürer in 1985. In retrospect it almost appears as if Ladda had anticipated the exhibition HEAVEN with his work Art Fashion and Religion, for it displays interchangeable belief systems, whose intertwining strands reach far beyond the three systems explicitly represented, touching upon the very material from which icons of art and culture are made.

Ladda made use of several levels of meaning in employing everyday refuse as a material for producing high art, and in reconstructing particularly aural works from garbage, he introduced a new way of perceiving them. In combining the banal with the sublime , trash with highly esteemed art treasures , ready-mades with the icons of genius, he dislodged the culturally fixed image. This image was transferred from a past realm of absolute certainty to the risky present, leading also to the incorporation of critical aspects regarding consumption and other contemporary maladies into a system innocent of such notions. Above all, it lead the icons of the past to express themselves in a new manner, for the components they were comprised of belonged to a totally different set of values. 

Imposing contrasting systems onto one another, each saturated with its own characteristics, is a tactic repeatedly employed by Justen Ladda. The constructive elements, whether these are Tide packages or the glass beads the three dresses in the exhibition consist of, are subversive, hiding their true features behind the disguise of the image. As if employing the strategy of a chameleon in order to survive in the Olympian environment of the museum, once the image is accepted as a coherent whole by the viewer, they reveal themselves in the manner of a Trojan horse, before- at second glance – murderously destroying it. In many of his works Ladda offers one perspective from which the representation makes sense, while when viewing it from other angles, it ceases to be comprehensible. The fact that his work is seemingly graspable from only one point of view is a metaphor for the manner in which icons are rooted in a world view that permits no change. If the image is fixed, the whole must be revolutionized by its constituent parts.

Ladda works in the manner of a bricoleur. He assembles his objects from parts devised to serve other ends, imbuing the objects with a mythological quality. Myths are constructed from bits and pieces belonging to different levels of meaning, and in them hybrids are created from parts borrowed from other entities. The mythological method at the same time negates and sustains the objects Ladda offers for consideration. These new mythologies re-legitimise the work to occupy the space of the museum.

The same procedure takes place in the case of the three dresses made of glass beads. The glass dress cannot be worn. It would break or injure its owner. The meaning of the dress does not correlate with its initial function. In its new syntax the dress becomes a metaphor for its own significance. It is now the quintessence of glamour. Each bead is a metonymy which stands for the whole object, for in each individual part the notion of glamour is represented. The dresses have the shape of a woman, whose curves-although the woman herself is not present- fill and form the dresses outlines. The actual woman is no longer required, as the symbol standing for the “ideal woman” has already taken control and disposed of her. Here one is confronted with the notion of the metaphor replacing the phenomenon it was supposed to stand for.


Doreet Levitte Harten, 1999

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