Translated from German to English by Suzanne Leu
The 2016 Culture Sponsorship Award of the Alexander Clavel Foundation
Gwen van den Eijnde’s Lipizzano
It is the explicit will and intention of the founder couple, Alexander and Fanny Clavel, laid down in the bye-laws that, as far as the yields on the foundation assets permit it in addition to the maintenance and renovation costs of the Wenkenhof building and the park designed by André Le Nôtre, the income is to be used to pay support to other institutions and organizations and the house and garden placed at disposal for scientific, ecclesiastical, cultural, humanitarian, musical, artistic, non-profit, or social events. Thus, the place, already settled in the 8th century, was to remain the centre of the spiritual, cultural, and artistic life of Basel even after the death of its last owners.
With a single exception, the Sponsorship Award of the Alexander Clavel Foundation established in 1983 was annually conferred to various institutions, artists’ groups, or individual artists, always mindful to take into account different disciplines of culture, to support not yet established or newly emerging forms of art and offer young artists a forum and platform for their work. Thus, within the context of the sponsorship award, cultural and other events took place in the house and garden, often inspired by the very spirit of the place and the exquisite lifestyle of the founder couple. Some of the dance and music festivals are unforgettable, as are the pioneering Video Weeks or Skulptur im 20. Jahrhundert, an exhibition of 20th-century sculpture without which the history of fine arts can no longer be imagined, or the Baroque garden re-designed by laser lights with an illumination lasting a full three days, and all the other numerous and imaginative artistic indoor and outdoor interventions and installations, the fashion creations by young designers and students of the University of Applied Sciences, the landscape interventions to support the GTA Archives on Swiss Landscape Architecture, as well as all the performance, tango, photography, painting, installation, and new-media projects, plus that other, very experimental way of reading texts, staged for the very first time outside the familiar university context by students of Modern German Literature at the University of Basel, or the contest of young slam poets to support the new literary format of a poetry slam, the concert with compositions of a then very young but in the meantime internationally renowned Basel composer Andrea Lorenzo Scartazzini, the virtuoso performances of the zone experimentale by the ensemble of the Master’s Degree of Contemporary Music at the Basel Academy of Music, the innovative works by young game designers to support the game culture, or as a form of art and, finally, the project to support off-spaces, today’s independent cultural exchange platforms.
Today, we are pleased to present the 2016 Sponsorship Award of the Alexander Clavel Foundation to internationally active costume designer and performance artist Gwen van den Eijnde, born in the Netherlands (Zierikzee) in 1981. Let me briefly introduce the award winner and his work. Gwen van den Eijnde first studied animated films, followed by Applied Arts in Roubaix (1996–1999, École Supérieure des Arts Appliqués et du Textile) and Fine Arts and Textile Design with Edith Dekyndt in Strasbourg (2000–2005, École Supérieure des Arts Décoratifs de Strasbourg). After participating in projects at the Opéra National de Paris, Opéra Bastille, Palais Garnier, and the Opéra National du Rhin, Strasbourg, he continued studying abroad: in New York (2006, financed by a scholarship grant of the International Summer Program at the Watermill Center founded by Robert Wilson), Stuttgart (2008–2009, Artist-in-Residence, Akademie Schloss Solitude), and Warsaw (2010, Centre for Contemporary Art Ujazdowski Castle). In 2007, he worked as a Costume Assistant at the Manchester International Festival for Monkey: Journey to the West, Damon Albarn’s and Jamie Hewlett’s successful circus opera, and also for several costume studios in Paris. In 2010, he was given the Audience Award for the best opera-costume design of the Prix Juste-au-Corps of the Lucerne Theatre, Lucerne, worked with costume designer Olivier Bériot, with South African dancer and choreographer Robyn Orlin and for Petit h, Hermès, Paris. In 2014, he stayed in Tokyo as a scholarship student at the Atelier Mondial of the Christoph Merian Foundation, Basel, where he researched traditional textiles and the art of creating kimonos. Gwen van den Eijnde taught Textile Design at the Haute Ecole des Arts du Rhin (HEAR) in Mulhouse, France, and most recently at the Rhode Island School of Design in Providence, Rhode Island, US. As a costume designer, he designs costumes for dance, theatre, and opera such as, e.g. the costumes of The History of Communism Told to the Mentally III for the Bucharest National Theatre (2006), for Les enfants de l’ilôt (2006), and Ziad, Plume et le mur (2008), two musical fairy tales produced by Maison des Arts, Thonon-Evian, France. In parallel, he creates experimental costumes, which he presents on photographs, films, and ceremony-type performances on his own body. He also works as a sculptor, creates installations, and exhibits internationally.
The costume creations of Gwen van den Eijnde are made of luxurious or simple, imaginative materials rich in contrast such as vintage cloths, paper cut-outs, wooden piano clefs, ribbons and bows, Christmas garlands, toothpicks, leaves, table sets, or plastic bags, which create a tension between the finished and the unfinished, between elegance and grotesque, between male and female. They are produced by means of prototypes made of paper or coarse fabric after an intensive study of traditional textiles in various stages and throughout a long process and serve as a medium to incarnate a variety of imaginary characters during a performance when wearing the costumes himself or in order to abandon himself with relish in the ambivalent garments of the “I is another” (“Je est un autre”, Arthur Rimbaud) of the seductive world of disguise, of role and identity-change games – in a state of the transitory and experimental, whereby hedonistic desire and a dramatic dimension (for which Gwen van den Eijnde co-operates with German countertenor Klaus Nomi and his eccentric stage props) turn into important elements of the incarnation and materialization of the costumes. The invention of a costume precedes its production. For only the performance by the artist himself completes the costume and, in turn, determines the performance. The artificial creatures thus created with their different characters (naïve or serious, fragile or proud, melancholic or cheerful), fictional and enigmatic figures, grotesque monsters, and androgynous creatures evoke a fleeting, dreamlike, fairy world, outside time, on the border between the real and the supernatural. They mutate into sculptural phenomena, into animated sculptures of the self, which carry on the transformational traditions of different cultural origins. The fact that they are able to trigger a whole production made of motion, music, and images testifies to the artist’s sheer interest in a form of cinema.
Gwen van den Eijnde moves between fine arts (sculpture), costume design, craftsmanship, and haute couture. Under the impression of the gods and god-like figures of Greek mythology, the Japanese Kabuki theatre in the flourishing, notorious culture of a “floating, ephemeral world” (Ukiyo-e) of the Edo period, under the impression of Mannerist parks (Parco dei Mostri or Park of Monsters, Bomarzo, Italy), of the lavish splendour and formal excesses of courtly Baroque, the playfulness and asymmetries of Rococo (as seen in Federico Fellini’s Casanova of 1976), the manner in which Dutch painters of the 17th century depicted fabrics and light reflexes in the undulating folds of their drapés (e.g. Gérard Ter Borch), the creations of the costume designers of the Ballets Russes (such as Léon Bakst around 1910), of Czech cubism, the philosophy and the novel ideas of the Bauhaus, the magic and aesthetics of the film noir (such as L’année dernière à Marienbad, Alain Resnais, 1961), under the impression of the innovative movements, the aesthetics and theatricality of the cinema of the 1980s (Peter Greenaway’s films, Sally Potter’s Orlando, Derek Jarman’s Caravaggio), the world of comics (such as the Franco-Belgian comics series Spirou et Fantasio), Gwen van den Eijnde created costumes and accessories that represent a subtle balance between stylistic elements of different eras and cultures, between genders and meanings, combining them with contemporary or futuristic aspects. Amalgamated into his very own style, he has them interact in illusion shows and evoke further associations. In fact Gwen van den Eijnde’s costumes resemble a journey through time.
Today, Gwen van den Eijnde will present the costumes that he realized by means of prototypes made of calico in the last nine months in parallel to his guest lectureship and the present occasion in Providence R.I. Made of Swiss textiles or from vintage kimono cloths he found on the flea markets of Kyoto (Toji) or Providence, he created costumes that are, unlike in the past, genuine sculptures. They are made of precious silk and an intentionally striven for contrast between white and coloured materials, which is to remind us of the professional activities of Alexander and Fanny Clavel, the founder couple (silk dyeing) The costumes consist of several finished and unfinished prototypical elements such as a shaker straw hat worn backwards on a képi blanc, made of dyed, gathered up socks, sawn together with furnishing decoration and worn around the neck, or of a ruff such as those painted by one of the Dutch or Flemish painters of the 17th century. Masque-like veils made of fabric flowers or of fine, translucent fabrics enhance the sculptural quality of the costumes, their dramatic dimension, and evoke associations of the role of the mask in the Baroque period, as they represented its Weltanschauung: life as a stage – and the stage as life. Two bustles, one of them resembling a headdress in the form of a crawfish tail, point to the hybrid aspect of the Baroque style. They recall the powdered wigs, corsets, and crinolines which were elements of the splendid garments of absolutist kings, their luxurious mistresses and court societies and which solely served representation, the mandated muse, above all however the excessive expenditure of self-representation. Capes and coat-like robes, pleated white shirts, laced-up trousers and culottes, high-soled Japanese getas and novel shoe creations further testify to his care of details and the uniqueness of each element. Each costume is an individual piece and similar to no other.
Riding games, all sorts of horse-riding events, and horses in general used to substantially characterize things at the Wenkenhof manor. They represented an important aspect in the life of Alexander und Fanny Clavel, the founder couple. Their still noticeable affinity for riding, the respective facilities (riding stables) and some of the extant decorations such as the white porcelain horse with its stupendous elegance have inspired Gwen van den Eijnde to create Lipizzano, a costume-performance project designed for today’s event and place. The horse’s mask created for this purpose with the head of an imperial, noble Lipizzaner horse with its copious, artificial hair, spreading like a supple cape on the shoulders, is fixed to the head by means of straps, similar to the headgear worn in the Japanese Kabuki theatre – a reference to the artist’s study semester in Japan. The horse’s mask moreover refers to the “Horseman’s Masks” sculptor Janine Janet created for the non-representational, actionless film Le testament d’Orphée by Jean Cocteau (1959), as well as to the legendary story of the Hermès company (Paris) and its success that began with a horse and saddle. In the 17th century, during the reign of the Sun King, Louis XIV, equestrianism gained high prestige thanks to the Riding School of Versailles. Noblemen, chivalrous chevaliers, began to dabble in the art of riding in their leisure time. One of them (François Robichon de la Guérinière), established already in the 18th century the rules of advanced dressage today valid all over the world. Some time later, the Spanish Riding School in Vienna was established. Referring to this, the figures accompanying the horse in their costumes of calm elegance can now evoke the gallant cavaliers such as those, e.g., shown in the paintings of Antoine Watteau – Gwen van den Eijnde’s work, a magic costume empire shaped by exotic details.
A book that documents the process of the costume production, photographic images and a film, which capture the ephemeral moments of the embodiment of the costumes during their performative staging and production, are all part of the artist’s project.
Riehen, June 2016
Member of the Board of Trustees, Alexander Clavel Foundation