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Phil Collins: the meaning of style

the meaning of style

Phil Collins | United Kingdom b.1970 | the meaning of style (still) 2011 | Purchased 2011. Queensland Art Gallery Foundation | Collection: Queensland Art Gallery

3 March 3 June 2012 | Gallery of Modern Art (GOMA) | Free admission


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The English artist Phil Collins explores the construction of identity, particularly in relation to the video or television camera. Reflecting his own experiences growing up in northern England in the 1970s and 1980s, his works often use music, television and pop culture to explore social situations and transcend definitions of language, social status and locality.

the meaning of style is a single-channel video projection filmed with a group of young Malay skinheads in Penang. The skinhead subculture first emerged in Malaysia in the early 1990s, and Collins was intrigued by the translation of an English working-class subculture into a South-East Asian context, finding connections to aspects of Malaysia’s British colonial history and complex racial politics. 

The work follows no clear narrative, taking the form of a dreamlike five-minute pop music video, set to a specially created soundtrack by Welsh musicians Gruff Rhys and Y Niwl. Its spare yet visually striking scenes focus on the role of style within the skinhead subculture, including two boys primping each other’s clothes, a street fight and a girl lighting a cigarette. In the central scene, one skinhead opens a box of butterflies that alight on the heads and shoulders of the other boys, creating a visual allegory of youth’s desire for flamboyant display.