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‘History of the Present’ as shown in KENZINE volume 2: Toilet Paper X Kenzo

Visual Artefact Essay 2:

As stated by Edward H. Carr, it could be argued that all history is a ‘history of the present’, there are multiple versions of history depending on the source point. Whilst historical truth is a process of consensus, I would argue that history within the context of art tends to focus on one version of the truth, rather than the overall consensus, and what artists choose to focus on is perhaps more reflective of the present than it is the past. Perhaps art, particularly from within the last century, is less about revealing historical truth, and more about interpreting and constructing it in a way that can be commented on within the context of modern day society. Despite its graphical modernity, the cover of the collaborative zine by ‘Toilet Paper Magazine’ and fashion brand ‘Kenzo’, titled KENZINE: volume 2, hints at a number of potential historical influences, and provides a illustrates the concept of ‘history of the present’ well due to this contrast between style, and potential contextual references.

The veiled figure provides the first case for historical influences, specifically relating to art history. The stance of the subject, their positioning and cloth veiling seems to emulate ‘The Lovers’ by René Magritte (1928) which, like Toilet Paper Magazine, is surrealistic. The connection in art styles shared by both pieces is notable, and perhaps suggesting the reader contemplate the progression of art since its time of creation, but perhaps its commentary is more focused on the nature of society. As with ‘The Lovers’, the enshrouding of the figure suggests barriers and boundaries, in the case of Magritte’s painting this was a barrier of intimacy, yet in the KENZINE, this barrier could refer instead to the wearing of a necklace by a presumably male subject, and the social barriers that prevent this from being accepted by some areas of society, and could suggest a social boundary caused by toxic masculinity that affects many men.

The other historical connection I would make would be to the bold and opulent costume jewellery worn in the image, which to me is reminiscent of those worn in royal portraiture. This portrait style isn’t typical of Toilet Paper Magazine’s work, possibly it was used in this fashion brand collaboration purposely to allude to this portraiture theme, and in doing so observing elements of today’s society from a fashion perspective. It could be implicative of the idolisation society had of fashion brands and the devotion we have to self-image, and perhaps the hierarchy created by consumer culture, whereby people are branded ‘haves’ or have-nots’ based on their possessions. It could also imply that, like with the wealth and excess that was evident in clothing and accessories worn by royalty in their portraits, as well as the backdrops of these paintings, consumer culture has reached a point of excess, greed and obsession with having more.

In examining the image from an art history perspective, we can reveal what may be the intended message of the image. Whilst the image, when compared to its counterparts by the surrealist magazine, may not seem to have an overruling message, it is the historical implications of this image, and its fashion relation that can help us make sense of it if considered in more depth. Although I doubt it was entirely Kenzo’s intention to do so, but in creating an image that sends a message of power through material possession, the inadvertent commentary it creates in relation to the society of today, notes the social barriers that haven’t yet fully been broken down to allow this power in possession to be accessible to everyone, and the social division fashion and consumer culture can sometimes create in society between the ‘haves’ and the ‘have-nots’.


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