Since the release of her first album in 2008, Lady Gaga has far surpassed any expectations for a starving singer songwriter. In two years she has gained international attention, and is often declared as the next Madonna. Her fame can be contributed to her creative genius, but also her nuanced understanding of performance and stunt. In an interview for the L.A. Times Ann Powers describes Gaga’s ontology as, “constructing a persona from pop-cultural sources can be an expression of a person's truth -- à la those drag queens Gaga sincerely admires.”
Lady Gaga has created an identity for herself through her use of shocking couture. Designers compete to have her wear their creations, and she now heads her own design team called Haus of Gaga. Though she may be seen wearing balloons one day, and pants-less the next, she is an unmistakable character. Her persona is embodied through performance; it is created through the awareness of gaze. In the presence of her vortex of views, hits, and general attention, one must wonder what role the other has in their own personal universe.
For my piece, titled Counter Couture, I decided to straddle the fine line between performance and stunt- Lady Gaga style. I initially intended to dress exactly like Lady Gaga, including a blonde wig, but then I found it impossible to re-create her look. This circumstance became essential to moving forward conceptually. I shopped on Library Walk with my own hair, makeup and clothes, with no cameraperson in sight. I appeared to be unaware of any social provocation. I was a woman with no artistic agenda, a fashionista to whom pants-lessness was completely acceptable. Without the ability to shield myself with a “costume,” I had no escape and was subject to the rules of the gaze like anyone else. The viewer chanced upon a social puzzle, and their attempts to define me became problematic. What kind of girl thinks this is okay? Is she a slut? Maybe she’s kinky or crazy. What do I consider kinky or crazy?
Viewers could not take a first impression and file me into one category; they had to instead find a new one, which then caused them to think about the very existence of categories in their minds. In this way this project reveals the reflective nature of the gaze. I do a stunt so that you will look at me, thus I exist, esse est percipi. However, if I do not wear pants or otherwise refuse to exist in a way that allows you to understand and define me, if I exist outside of your pre-prescribed terms for me as the other, this complicates matters. You must then think about how your gaze works to create me, and I have effectively reflected your gaze back towards you. You then gaze at yourself and wonder how you are constructed by this look.
Lady Gaga is a master of this look. She uses it as a commentary on her industry as well as to promote self-love and awareness. She manipulates the absurd in her favor, managing to be mainstream at the same time. Counter Couture is a spectacle of normalcy; it does not seek to define new norms but rather cultivate consciousness of the pervasive nature of existing ones.