Mid-Covid-19, post-Trump we’ve all come crashing into a great existential moment; a vulnerability is rendering our favourite tools-for-coping irrelevant, somehow wrong.

Take irony for example. It’s such an unhealthy coping mechanism - the ultimate escape from reality that allows us to dodge responsibility for our own choices.

But what does it take to overcome irony’s cultural pull? What does it take to say what you mean, and even more poignantly mean what you say? What does it take to get real?

Culture’s way of describing itself is so rife with jargon and in-references that it ends up minimizing its potential worth and reach. Audiences are alienated – an arguably dangerous position at a time when neoliberal cynicism against funding and the ‘elite artist’ has already done so much real damage, particularly to emerging creative minds.

In this issue we look to designers, artists, architects and curators who not only say it as it is, but who seem to be prioritizing what is immediate and actual; who seem to shun the irony virus in favour of work that’s informed by more subtlety than narcissism.

From Alexandra Kehayoglou’s quiet protest tapestries to Jing He and Daan Wubben’s exploration of how ‘real’ is defined in culture, we want these pages to draw attention to creatives who sit quietly with reality-reality and understand why that looks so different to the hyperproduced staged-reality of Disney

Maybe it’s because in this current, more menacing climate, when even Mickey’s cheer fails to ignite our spirits, discreet feels more authentic.  And besides, irony is always accompanied by snobbery. Art that’s rich in irony becomes about access and knowledge, which are usually the antithesis of what creatives are purporting to explore. Irony is self-conscious, referential and often just plain exhausting. Irony is self-protection; it avoids rather than confronts truth. Irony kills earnestness.

And even though so many of us have been confined to varying degrees of lockdown over this past year, developments in #blacklivesmatter, environmental intersectionality, and #metoo have successfully paved some real cultural shifts – new ways of thinking that move beyond woke hashtags and into institutional power structures. Reality is changing and it was earnestness, not irony that got us here.

These long overdue shifts are the result of a risky reveal, an exposing of all the vulnerabilities that make life so real. “Tell me the world you really inhabit,” we asked the writers and artists involved with this issue. I wanted to collaborate with people who really live the words they utter; people who strive to keep the gap between the talk and the truth narrow. But is it even possible?

Realness isn’t part-time or just-for-public consumption. Realness can’t be compartmentalized. Reality is interconnected; it dares to deny the prevailing way of distinguishing between what’s social, economic and environmental. If Covid-19 has taught us one thing, it’s that everything overlaps and that culture is the glue that holds it all together.

It’s a notion that architect David Chipperfield has devoted his career to –avoiding the brash gesture in favour of complex contexts. Oscar-nominated film-maker Gus van Sant too, his cinematic realism opening up a space for characters whose reality could never thrive outside the mainstream.

On our cover we feature Van Sant alongside Gucci creative director Alessandro Michele taken on the set of the seven part mini-series, Overture For Something That never Ends, which they co-directed for the brand. The films are a great attempt to insert Gucci into the cultural conversation about gender and identity.  They merge menswear and womenswear using gender-blurring performance artist Silvia Calderoni.

So let’s get real. Let’s do and let’s even speculate, but not for entertainment, but for a better, safer reality.

Let’s Get Real.

by Gabrielle Kennedy