Part art, part fashion, part design object, Benjamin Larose started My Fabulous Blankets—a project born out of recontextualizing and transforming public images of celebrities to blankets. “It was an impulsive response to an image gone viral,” says the artist, designer and assistant professor at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago (SAIC). And it snowballed from there. “I use my own six-foot-three, hairy Québécois male body as a means to recreate the gestures and ultimately transform the images. I hybridized myself: one limb, one posture, gesture, or one soundbite at a time,” he says about the project that extends beyond the viral social media hashtag #BlanketSunday, to include a series of photographic prints, a performance that serves as “an appetizer for what’s to come.” Larose talks about fashion as identity, the queering of pop culture, his works as “part parody and impersonation, part commentary” and being unapologetically yourself.
Tell me about #BlanketSunday. What is it and where did the idea come from?
It started as a joke, really. After the Oscars, everyone was talking about Will Smith slapping Chris Rock. I was obsessed with that other image that went viral, that reaction shot of Nicole [Kidman]. The image was circulated online as in reaction to the slap, when in fact it was in reaction to something entirely different. Anyway, I thought it was comical how the snapshot was taken out of context and snowballed so quickly. So, I decided to take it even further out of context. I turned the image into a blanket and started posing, playing with it in my living room and I put it out on social media.
By the way, Nicole and I are on a first-name basis now. I had a dream about her a while back. She left Keith Urban for me. Things with Keith had run their course so we were going to be together. Also, did I ever tell you that I saw her in person once? I worked in a public market in Vancouver. I was getting lunch and I walked past this woman with huge sunglasses and a mass of curly red hair shoved under a baseball cap. I was like: “Who does that?!” and then: “Wait! That’s Nicole’s hair!” I turned around and spotted her in a fruit stand, she was shoving her face with blueberries. I stood right next to her pretending to pick a pineapple with my hands, but just staring at her, mouth wide open.
Anyway, so, #BlanketSunday started with Nicole and the response on social media was so rad, I just ran with it! Playing with context, recontextualizing and transforming, those are some of my favorite strategies as an artist. I love exploring that space in-between. I dropped a new blanket every Sunday since April, hence the #BlanketSunday hashtag. Second week came my husband: Oscar Isaac. His sexy sniff of Jessica Chastain’s armpit on the red carpet was the perfect opportunity for me to push my feminine self onto my imaginary husband. Ha-ha! Third week came my homegirl Celine Dion and her iconic backwards tuxedo at the 1999 Academy Awards.
How do you choose your subject matter?
I didn’t approach the #BlanketSunday project very strategically or with much intentionality at first. It was an impulsive response to an image gone viral. It happened very fast, and then I made up the project as I went along. A few weeks into it, I had a better sense of what I was doing.
The main interest for me is in the potential for what I call “performing the editorial.” I use my own body, gestures, styling, my voice and accents to perform a queering of pop culture. I use my own six-foot-three, hairy Québécois male body as a means to recreate the gestures and ultimately transform the images. I hybridized myself: one limb, one posture, gesture, or one soundbite at a time. It’s part parody and impersonation, part commentary and with the added twist that is recognizably part of my larger practice. It’s interesting to me to watch how that material resonates through my performances, photographs and videos. Some of these images are so loaded, even a really tight crop on a leg or a hand instantly takes us back to that decade. At this point, I have come up with clear criteria for selecting my blankets. I’m looking at the iconique womxn on screen, very secondary characters, red carpet moments, hot and steamy scenes, etcetera.
The blankets serve as art, fashion and design objects—all at once. What are some of the greatest advantages and challenges of blurring the lines between disciplines?
Ambiguity is great! I love giving myself French tips, doing my hair real big, putting on a sexy heel and showing off my legs! [laugh] I’ve been thinking of my own gender in a more-and-more fluid way these past few years and not only is that reflected in my practice, I think my practice was a huge driver for getting in touch with my fabulousness.
Also, these #BlanketSunday performances on social media are turning out to be a great way to set the stage for a new project that I’ll be launching in 2023. It’s a project I started in 2020 and it really turned out to be a multi-year journey for me. I had been wanting to reconnect with performance for a long time, but I had been on such a roll with my sculpture work that there just wasn’t any time to delve into performance. In January 2020, I went for it. My Fabulous Blankets is an appetizer for what’s to come!
There is also something super-stimulating about these mini-performances being public. You know, I am an assistant professor at SAIC and one thing that is on my mind pretty constantly is whether we over-professionalize artists and, most dangerously, our art students. Do we set them up to become overtly palatable and inoffensive? And I think my relationship to professionalism has changed a lot these past couple years. Particularly, my relationship to social media. Leading up to my promotion to assistant professor, I prioritized being professionally strategic. Now, I am much more focused on being unapologetically myself. I’m letting it all hang out and every time I lose a follower, I celebrate! Ha!
Your work questions the ways in which commodity and material culture affect our sense of self and our perception of each other. How do the blankets help explore those themes?
With #BlanketSunday, I borrow from pop culture to perform hybridized versions of myself on social media. I’m pulling Angelina’s leg, Kate’s orgasmic hand, Jamie Lee’s power pose, Joan Cusack’s glorious eighties hair, and I Frankenstein my fabulous self together.
In June I dropped my blanket of Chris Tucker’s character Ruby Rhod from “The Fifth Element.” I was a kid the first time I saw it and Chris Tucker was THE most overtly, sexually ambiguous character I had ever seen. He was aggressive, unapologetic and just so H-O-T. And he wore this Jean-Paul Gaultier leopard print, off-the-shoulder bodysuit. Absolutely epic. For me, there’s something fundamentally fashion about these blanket performances. Fashion is identity, presentation of self, and it’s also seduction and sex. These blankets are smack down the middle of all that.
Do you have a personal favorite—a piece that strikes you as particularly fascinating?
Angelina Jolie’s leg is definitely up there! I remember how much people talked about her leg at the time (that was the 2012 Oscars). I cropped pretty much everything but the leg on the red carpet. And you know, as much as I might like an idea personally, I never really know how people will respond. Well, that blanket video was viewed over 15,000 times on Instagram!
I also love the tight crop on Kate Winslet’s hand on the window of that car in “Titanic.” Perfect example of an iconic frame that is instantaneously recognizable. Filming that video was ridiculous fun: steaming up my bathroom, I’m down on all fours, trying to precisely reproduce the hand gesture on the fogged-up glass pane. But I love it all! Pretending to be slicked-hair Jamie Lee Curtis about to strip. Trying my best Staten Island accent like Joan Cusack in “Working Girl”: “Six thousand dollars? It’s not even leather!” It’s all amazing fun.
I’m also fascinated by what I call very secondary characters, like the one played by Priscilla Allen in iconic cult movie “Total Recall.” She’s best known for playing the woman who repeats “Two Weeks… Twooooo Weeeeeks!” It’s great to read up on those lesser-known performers. Priscilla Allen was apparently a grand dame of San Diego theater and a beloved theater educator. too. She passed away in 2008.
Can you reveal any of your future plans?
I am very pleased to be launching “My Fabulous Blankets” as a collection of photographic prints! Also, a new blanket drops every week on Sunday!
Find out more about My Fabulous Blankets at myfabulousness.com. Follow @benjaminlarose on Instagram and TikTok and check out #blanketsunday #myfabulousblankets
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