‘Selbstportrait’ is the first solo exhibition by German artist Simon Freund. Presented at the Stu in Munich on two Samsung The Frame TVs, the photo series is a meditation on identity and consumerism, it depicts 100 humans wearing Freund’s signature uniform of trousers, jumper, and beanie, and he in their clothes.
When we think of clothes and our own personal style, many things spring to mind: confidence, comfortability, fashion, identity, variety. In light of the considered effort many put in to having multiple ‘looks’ for their day-to-day activities, is wearing the same thing over and over a little counter-cultural? This is the concept explored by Freund, in his first solo exhibition titled ‘Selbstportrait’, or self-portrait in English. On the eve of his opening at the STU, we spoke to Freund—who quit his own fashion brand to start producing conceptual art—about his criticism of mass consumerism, and how it finds form in his creative practice.
There are two parts to ‘Selbstportrait’: many different people looking the same, and then one person looking different in many ways. What was your vision for this project?
The idea started when I was photographing a model for a fashion lookbook. In one of the pictures, I thought the model looked so much like how I would portray myself; I saw myself in her. So I thought, is it possible to make a self-portrait when you’re not even in the picture? My main idea was to photograph sameness in the form of people wearing my clothes. But to make them more comfortable, I wore theirs too: when they undressed, I undressed. And then a new question arose—is there even gendered clothing? One of the most interesting parts about it was when I wore some of the female outfits. People were laughing, and so I said, why is it actually funny? Then there’s a serious moment where people start thinking about it. Why is it funny when men wear ‘women’s’ clothes and not the other way around? Why isn’t it also funny when men wear trousers?
Can you explain a little about the purpose of swapping clothes with strangers?
We have so much physical connection to our own clothes, it’s weird to be in someone else’s. Some I felt really comfortable, and with others it was strange. For example, if there was a person with a different body size to mine, the clothes are sitting differently. And that was quite interesting to have this very personal but temporary connection with so many different outfits.
What is the message being sent by wearing the same outfit every day?
If we think about clothing production, seasons and trends, it’s unbelievable how many different outfits there are being produced. Do I want to wear different sneakers every day? Sure, I’d like that, but do I want to be part of the big footprint that it’s leaving on the planet? No. So I’m raising a new question, is it even reasonable to have so many different outfits?
Why do you think having lots of different outfits is such an important part of people’s identities?
People try and put on a layer to portray something, and it’s easy to do that via clothing. But if you are truly you, it doesn’t matter what you wear, because appearances can sometimes hide what really makes a person unique and special. So that’s the thing with this project: is it the clothing, or the human? I want to say it’s the human. In the end, it doesn’t matter what you wear, it comes down to the person and their expression. So it’s beautiful because it brings out the human element.