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The story of streetwear told through the Slam Jam archive

Interview with the creators of the virtual exhibition that traces the story of Luca Benini for sounds and images

The story of streetwear told through the Slam Jam archive Interview with the creators of the virtual exhibition that traces the story of Luca Benini for sounds and images

One of the effects of the lockdown, which made the near future so uncertain, was to force us to look towards what was there before and now it has disappeared. For brands and great fashion personalities, this meant the beginning of a period of introspection during which they reasoned about the past and the concrete manifestations of its richness: their archives. Precisely to revive its archives, which constitute a visual and sound chronicle of the thirty years that has seen the rise of streetwear, Slam Jam has collaborated with the Nationhood agency to create a unique virtual exhibition consisting of an infinitely scrolling stripe that contains new images, photos of unusual products, personal and graphic memories that capture the essence of that cultural titan that has been , for the world of streetwear, Slam Jam in Italy. A rich genetic heritage, which has its core in the legendary figure of Luca Benini, and which now comes back to life thanks to a revolutionary multi-disciplinary approach (an approach actually followed and elaborated for years by Slam Jam in an incalculable number of initiatives and projects) that wants to take stock of a glorious past but looking to the future in the making – merging memory and digital , memorabilia and cross-sectoral platforms. 

Of course we are talking about an immense archive, consisting of over 30,000 objects, without mentioning photo-memories, videos, graphics and sounds. To better understand the narrative and organizational logic of this huge project, the editorial staff of nss interviewed the founders of Nationhood Achille Filipponi and Matteo Milaneschi making themselves tell the story of the development of this extraordinary project.

What kind of materials does an archive like Slam Jam include? And what do these materials say about his story?

Let's say Slam Jam as a reality is a very special case. A cultural prism. We are talking about a real cultural institution, as well as a company. A  anthropologic heritage of looks and visual culture. Luca Benini, the founder, has always been at the center of underground subcultures: from the clubbing of the Roman Riviera of the early 80s, to the international hip hop scene of the nineties to the new Japanese avant-gardes of the early zero years. It is a varied documentary heritage and very linked to underground art and music.

In highlighting the story of the Slam Jam archive, was the single discovery or the collective historical picture that emerges more valuable?

The archive is full of valuable pieces, but the most important thing is definitely the big picture. Slam Jam was and remains a complex and hybrid "thing", which has moved nimbly between cultural research and international collaborations. This produces in the archive a drawing in which everything is interconnected and returns constant links between different cultural phenomena, where, high and low, metropolises and peripheries, mainstream and undergorund, meet and cross.

What is e logic behind the organization of the infinite scroll stripe created by Nationhood?

The stripe follows a basic philosophy that is to destructure the archive in its entirety and create a new atlas. It is a chaotic atlas on an associative basis that creates a sequelae of canvases that in turn contain new correlations between the pieces. This new provision democratizes the elements of heritage and combines worlds. It is possible that they live with, for example, a snapshot of LA in '92, a Stussy sweatshirt and a torn page with a drawing of Futura 2000: is it an "archive" arrangement? Certainly not, but it returns a cultural framework of reference. That was our primary interest and the way forward for Slam Jam.

What was the most unusual or noteworthy discovery you made when reviewing the archive? What has been ruled out?

We honestly couldn't make a precise choice of a single piece... strictly speaking of fashion we found some Pervert garments almost impossible to find, given that productions have been limited as the life of the brand itself. In a more general sense, works of art, and a photo bank of the highest profile; there is also a very extensive collection of skateboards and some plastic shoppers of the 80s really remarkable, of Fiorucci, of the New Order of Riccione or of Stardust of Bologna. There are also the unreveable jerseys of Forty Acres and a Mule from Spike Lee's store in Brooklyn. Much of the archive is excluded from the stripe, which is like the tip of an iceberg and has been designed with an underlying base of technical consultation, which involves the digitization of almost the entire archive.

From the point of view of curation, what are the differences and difficulties of a multidisciplinary approach, in this case with images, videos and music, compared to a monodisciplinary approach, such as a carousel of photos?

Costume is culture, so a complex approach is the only one you can follow. For us a fashion archive is an archive of visual culture. The aesthetic value of things is not their "aestheticism", it is a value made of interconnected phenomena and cultural weight. This has always been the philosophy we follow. This increases the difficulties because while operating you have to take into account, for example, how connected Douglas Pierce's clothing is to his way of writing music in "The world that summer", or to the graphics of the cover of that record, but these are indissoluble bonds that a monotonous approach cannot return. It would be like ousting fashion from history. Nationhood deals with cultural projects and most of the time, as editors or curators, in these projects we shuffe disciplines and fields for a new offer, but this for us means power of synthesis, not simplicity from the start.

Come si fa a far tornare in vita un archivio del genere in maniera costruttiva, ossia senza restare fermi nel passato?

Surely every archive is alive, constantly changing as it takes shape. For our part, we always think of projects that are multilayer and that do not just show the heritage. Each piece of the archive becomes not only "visible", but a real pretext to activate connections and further research. Beyond that we can tell you that Archivio Slam Jam is not only the digital project but also a long queue of editorial projects and offline interventions. All these activities represent the vector that throws documents into the present and the current, precisely because the pieces are not pieces of an ordered structure, that is their origin, from which we arrive at Archivio Slam Jam which is in all respects an almost digital publishing product.

Why do you feel the need for recovery of archive materials in 2021?

Because the archive is a pure source that traces contemporary aesthetics, it is the internal pulp of fashion that demonstrates its complexity. Inside the archive are things as they are, but when we see them all together they are more than their sum and recover their aura.