Chaos Magic: In Search of Identity in the (Post-) Internet Age

the cover of K-Hole's report #5

the cover of K-Hole’s report #5

Chaos Magic

Chaos Magic

A small white logo in the middle of a jarring green page. A series of letters form a crooked ring around a shaky K. This is the cover of Report #5: A Report on Doubt, the latest offering from K-HOLE, artist-collective-cum-trend-forecasting-group. The PDF report is 36 pages of brightly coloured WordArt-like text, set on clashing backgrounds alongside internet-sourced photographs and stock imagery. The text, in a tone somewhere between conversational, mockingly humorous and gravely academic, is uncompromising, challenging, even deliberately obtuse.

Through analysis of consumerism and branding, intended as conceptual propositions, K-HOLE’s reports express anxious efforts to situate and understand identity in the uncertain (post-) internet age. Significantly, ‘k-hole’ refers to the dislocated state that may be experienced after taking the drug ketamine.

Although not everyone will have heard of K-HOLE, many will have come across ‘Normcore’, the term the group employed in their 2013 report to describe the idea of embracing unoriginality in order to achieve freedom. After being confused by the press with another of the group’s terms, ‘Acting Basic’, an over-night trend for fleece and Birkenstocks was born. Unsurprisingly, in the aftermath of the Normcore mix-up, the group seems to be attempting to distance itself from fashion – a subject it already had a complicated relationship with.

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A Report on Doubt proposes ‘Chaos Magic’ as the successor to Normcore.  Chaos Magic is not a new concept – according to Wikipedia, it emerged in the 1970s. Although the original meaning relates to a practical application of magic – involving magicians and rites – K-HOLE borrows not only the name but, crucially, the idea of belief as magic, suggesting a new approach to experiencing reality. The report proposes Chaos Magic as the idea that, ‘Belief becomes a technology that creates change’. Chaos Magic is about embracing the uncertainty of why things happen: you don’t have to know how; you just have to believe that they will. As K-HOLE member, Emily Segal, explains in a recent interview for Vogue.com. ‘What’s important is how people are experiencing the world, experiencing their spirituality, experiencing anxiety, so there is a motion back toward the emotional landscape of consumers.’

Once again, the fashion press has seized upon this new concept in a literal way, seemingly ignoring K-HOLE’s conceptual intentions. There have been no fewer than three separate fashion related Guardian/Observer articles on the topic in two weeks. One is entitled ‘10 ways to get the Chaos Magic look’ and presents the reader with a shopping list consisting of glittery shoe-boots, sequin-festooned boyfriend jeans and an evil-eye bracelet.

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However, beyond suggestions that people don galaxy-print jackets and crystal-ball inspired brogues, there perhaps lies a more nuanced way for fashion to engage with Chaos Magic. Fashion, after all, is no stranger to exploring issues of contemporary identity. As Joanne Entwhistle comments in her book, The Fashioned Body, ‘Fashion, dress and consumption provide ways of dealing with the problems of the modern world, characterised by increasing fragmentation and sense of chaos. Fashion opens up possibilities for framing the self, however temporarily’ (p.139). Fashion has a historical precedent of acting as a tool with which to come to terms with the changing technological world: consider post-war modernity and fashion’s role in refiguring the subject. Fashion is an important device which people use to grapple with experiential issues of contemporary identity through materiality.

In this overlapping concern with identity, there is potential for a truly interesting dialogue between K-HOLE and fashion. However, in order to allow this to emerge, a different approach is required. Rather than settling for a literal aesthetic of the magical through a set of style commandments (star-spangled footwear…), perhaps we should be mobilising the concept of Chaos Magic to think about new ways of approaching and experiencing dress. The real magic of K-HOLE’s concept comes from the myriad of possibilities which open themselves up to you, if only first you can let go and believe.

Sources

Find all of K-HOLE’s reports on their website – http://khole.net

http://artreview.com/opinion/summer_2014_opinion_mark_sladen/
http://rhizome.org/editorial/2013/mar/26/mission-creep/
http://www.theguardian.com/fashion/2015/sep/27/chaos-magic-normcore-fashion-trends-eva-wiseman
http://www.theguardian.com/fashion/2015/oct/06/from-normcore-to-chaos-magic-the-people-behind-fashions-biggest-buzzwords
Joanne Entwhistle, The Fashioned Body (Cambridge: Polity Press, 2000)