You walk into a Meadham Kirchhoff venue and are instantly seduced by smell. Today, it was Penhaligon's English Fern, a classic from 1910 whose soapiness would have at one time evoked the clean English schoolboys who died in the filth of World War I's trenches. Wasted youth—in all senses of the term—is a subtext in MK's work, but there was a film before today's "performance" (so it was called on the invitation) that celebrated youth taking physical action against the tyranny of Communist oppression in Budapest, Prague, and Berlin. Not wasted at all. Which meant the ambiguity of the subsequent "performance" was somewhat misleading.
Enter on a row of chairs, like a waiting room: One by one, boys filed in, dressed in white light layers of indeterminate gender and provenance—christening lace, shivering latex, floral smock—their feet in whimsically painted Nordic clogs-cum-shoes. They took their seats, concentrating on their idiosyncratic semi-countercultural reading matter (Virginia Woolf's Orlando, a copy of the classic Oz). Soon each boy was taken out by someone more soberly dressed, obviously authoritative because his clothes were tailored—or at least dark—and there was no folkloric charm in his serious footwear. He made his subject take off his clothes, stripping away his identity piece by piece. Then the pair would file off, their melancholy interaction complete.
Given the filmic intro, the symbolism of the performance suggested the way that history has always co-opted youth to serve its military interests. The boys were being drafted. But the penny eventually dropped. We had been watching Meadham Kirchhoff's statement about the oppressive nature of the fashion industry, where rebels like themselves will go on making a brave stand against the ultimate authorities of good taste and commercial acceptability in the face of ever-worsening odds. The show's title, I Do Nothing, sounds like a curious admission of powerlessness, especially in the light of that introductory film, whose message seemed more akin to Günter Grass's exhortation, "The job of a citizen is to keep his mouth open." And the comparison of the fashion establishment to communism's monstrous inhumanity also seemed a little on the ripe side.
But there is something perversely sweet, almost preciously adolescent about such an us-against-the-world position in the line of work that Meadham and Kirchhoff have chosen for themselves, which probably explains its seductive lure for a new generation of fashion acolytes. And it only sharpened the irony of MK's performance being dressed in an impressive collection of clothes that very efficiently dealt with the demands of Mammon. But then, one look at Ed Meadham is proof enough that dressing well is the best revenge.