07. March 2016

Electronic beats, a game of fashion and political activism: This is the mixture championed by Pop/Performance collective Voodoo Chanel. An interview at SCHIRN MAG

By Alexander Jürgs

“Chicks on Speed is an art project that extends far beyond the confines of the art world,” comments Melissa Logan. Together with Alex Murray-Leslie and Kiki Moorse, she founded the collective back in 1997 at Munich’s Academy of Art. At the time, the idea was to clearly mark themselves off from the established, staid art scene. Dadaism and Guy Debord’s Situationist International were important influences and “Seppi Bar” was thus founded, parties and performances being accorded equal status in this regard. The “Chicks On Speed” also came to fame as a Pop phenomenon: their Malaria cover “Kaltes Klares Wasser” was one of the Club hits of the Noughties. In total, they have released six albums. Logan and Murray-Leslie remain the core of the collective, while the artists with whom they collaborate change from time to time. There have also been projects on the side, not to mention Voodoo Chanel. In the context of the opening of the “ME” exhibition they will now be performing at SCHIRN. Voodoo Channel describe their live performances as “New Worlds Electronica”, “Altered States”, “Tranceformance” and “Ancient Futurism”. On stage will be Alexis Johnson, Melissa Logan, Mission Changdarc, Nelly Ellinor and Jesseline Preach. A conversation about voodoo, Pop, fashion and religion.

Schirn Magazine: How did “Voodoo Chanel” come to be established? Is it a spin-off project of “Chicks On Speed”? 

Melissa Logan: There were a few “Chicks On Speed” satellite projects. The most recent one is the “University of Craft Action Thought”, which was set up in early February at Munich’s Academy of the Visual Arts. That’s also where the “Chicks On Speed” were first established, back at the end of the 1990s. Voodoo Chanel is an independent formation that can be part of the “Chicks On Speed” projects but which also performs on its own. For example, we run our own voodoo festival.

Voodoo Chanel was founded in Abidjan, capital of the Ivory Coast. How did that come about? 

Melissa Logan: That was in 2010. Nadine Jessen of Hamburg’s Kampnagel Theater and Ivorian Pop star Shaggy Sharoof were involved at the time. It was founded as part of a project by theater directors Gintersdorfer and Klaßen – they had invited numerous artists to Abidjan. We worked with highly talented music producers and performed so many times that we were soon known about town. We discovered the Voodoo Chanel symbol, a graffiti, at a market. It was painted rather than sprayed on a wall. We hijacked it for our own use.

Is cultural diversity important for the project? 

Mission Changdarc: Diverse cultural roots are simply a by-product, a coincidence, based on shared intellectual chemistry: the “same” passion for music, the “same” stance toward the search for identity, but “different” histories of rebellion. 

Voodoo is a form of religion. Can’t we therefore ask: Isn’t fashion also a religion? 

Alexis Johnson: Voodoo is a dynamic religion, but also a response to economic, social and cultural dominance. Voodoo Chanel is a new strategy of self-representation with no brand behind it.

Nelly Ellinor: Voodoo is a state of being. You have to feel voodoo and believe that it has the power to influence you and your surroundings. If that is the case then you feel powerful, if not transcendent; seen in this way, voodoo and fashion are very similar. 

Jesseline Preach: I would say that fashion is a part of every religion, and therefore also of voodoo, but more as a state of mind. Fashion and voodoo are inspirations that can easily be combined. Fashion is voodoo.

Melissa Logan: Belief is part of human life, irrespective of whether you are actually a believer or not. Fashion is similar in this respect. You can reject fashion completely but it still always remains part of life.

Voodoo Chanel stands, among other things, for “New Worlds Electronica”. What is that? 

Alexis Johnson: The emphasis is on electronic beats that open the creative subconscious, that whisk you away on a journey into analog melodies produced by saxophone, piano, ukulele and other traditional instruments. 

So why is it important that Pop culture and art meld in the process? 

Alexis Johnson: This is necessary if we are to understand the current process of art globalization. And it is a good medium to give voice to and represent the oppressed narratives of people who suffer from colonialization.