The Lion is a Peacock

At no time in history were costumes of greater importance than in the courtly world of the Baroque. They were required to give the natural human figure imposing dimensions by turning them into walking sculptures using hooped skirts, padded bustles, and brocade clothes. Such accessories constrained all movement to basic regular forms, which in turn served as functional correspondences to courtly ceremonies. The costumes by the young artist Gwen van den Eijnde (*1981) recall many aspects found in the hybrid forms of Baroque costumes. Van den Eijnde, who was born in the Netherlands and lives in Paris, has developed a specific form of performance that situates itself between haute couture, design, craftsmanship, and sculpture. Drawing inspiration from contemporaneous pattern books, from films such as Jarman’s “Caravaggio” or Fellini’s “Casanova,” he amalgamates these precursors into an individual style. The costumes themselves are the result of a deliberate manufacturing process that begins with small design models and culminates in the completed costumes made using exceptional, and frequently highly valuable, materials. However, the artwork itself only finds completion in the artist’s performance: Van den Eijnde stages his compositions as if for a theater stage or the catwalk. Neither mime nor content are of importance, only the costumes and the frequently absurd outgrowths determine these performances. This is also the case in the exhibition Isabel Halene curated at the Kunstraum Riehen that includes pattern collages and costume designs along with a video recording of van den Eijnde’s three-part performance staged during the Basel Museum Night. The shimmering clothes testify to what took place: “Le Lion habillé en fleur,” “Pam-Pam,” and “L’obélisque.” The poetic titles open imaginary spaces that evoke in us the desire to step out of ourselves and be absorbed into these imaginary forms. Anybody interested in the possible metamorphoses of collar plissés, silk chiffons, or head cages should not miss this subtly presented exhibition.
Durch das Pfauenauge, Gwen van den Eijnde. Kunstraum Riehen. Until 24th February 2013.

Maria Becker
Neue Zürcher Zeitung, Samstag, 9. Februar 2013 . Nr.33

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Gwen van den Eijnde invents beings. They do not speak, do not dance, and hardly even move. They are close, but do not cohabitate. Their place is elsewhere, their time is slow, patient and even a little maniac.

Gwen van den Eijnde becomes, every times he decides, one of these beings. He then undertakes a very long process of what he will become. It is the finery that he creates with the care of meticulous details that piece after piece, conducts him towards what he will incarnate.

During Gwen van den Eijnde appearances we witness a sort of ceremony, bound to who knows what ritual. And one could, in these instances imagine seeing a Samourai, a bull fighter, or a Chinese Empress. Nevertheless, we never really know who is in front of us, who is this being that does not see us, and that sees things or beings that we do not see, that perhaps do not even exist.

Edith Dekyndt

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"He – for there could be no doubt of his sex, though the fashion of the time did something to disguise it…." So begins Virginia Woolf’s Orlando: A biography and a movie made on the novel’s basis. Costumes for the Sally Potter-directed film were created by Dien van Straalen, a regular collaborator of Peter Greenaway’s, and Sandy Powell designed costumes for Derek Jarman… Gwen van den Eijnde says that movies are an important inspiration for him and mentions, among other things, Jarman’s Caravaggio and Peter Greenaway’s films. Costumes play an important role both in the later and in the story of Orlando, beginning in the 16th century and ending four hundred years later, depicting the transformation into a woman of a person who serves as an embodiment of successive historical periods.

This intriguing ambiguity, a subtle balancing between eras, genders and meanings, can also be found in Gwen’s works. They can be situated in the context of sophisticated haute couture dressmaking or seen as costumes made for film, theatre or opera. The artist presents them live on stage, which encourages their perception as works of art. They can be viewed as a special kind of sculptures, three-dimensional forms that achieve their maximum effect when filled by a human body. Are they a precise reconstruction, based on preserved objects and painterly representations? Like Virginia Woolf, so Gwen van den Eijnde takes us on a trip through time.

A bonnet-like piece of headwear has been created using little wings made of fragments of a paper ruff that additionally surrounds the neck with a huge ring. These 16th-century attributes are combined with a geometricised apron repeating the pleat motif and bringing to mind both Bauhaus costumes and more oriental applications. The whole thing is accompanied by shoes resembling 18th-century men’s footwear, with the decoration on the heel that suggests more of a folk pattern than of the splendour of the court of Louis XV. In other projects the ruff evolves, adopting the form – probably unprecedented in the history of fashion – of a fan growing above the right shoulder. Elsewhere, a huge headgear resembling the kind of a 19th-century bonnet worn by the main protagonist of Jane Campion’s Piano has been juxtaposed with 16th-century style short, wide men’s breeches known as the hauts-de-chausses.

Gwen van den Eijnde easily combines elements from various historical periods and sources, juxtaposing them, something exaggerating their visual forms. These elements then begin to interact, evoking further associations, but they also constitute a background for each other, which, like the imperfections left sometimes by the artist, allows us to see them out of their usual context. They seem familiar though they belong nowhere. Van den Eijnde achieves the effect by working at the intersection of the visual arts, costume design, handicraft and haute couture. Constructing like this, he subjects the material of his work to constant deconstruction.

Kamila Wielebska

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One of Gwen van den Eijnde’s most notorious influences resides in his fascination with a mysterious and extravagant garden situated in Bomarzo, Italy: The Garden of Bomarzo, also known as the Park of the Monsters. Erected in the 1550’s by the patron of the arts Vicino Orsini, this surreal Renaissance garden houses over thirty big-scale grotesque sculptures, representing mythological Greek figures (Pegasus, Aphrodite, Cerberus, and Hercules) or imaginary animals (sphinx, sirens, dragon, orc, whale, bear). The park was abandoned in the following centuries, and only renovated and rediscovered in the 1950’s, becoming then a source of influence for numerous artists — Salvador Dali, Jean Cocteau or Niki de Saint-Phalle, whose sculpture garden “Garden of Tarots” pays a evident homage to the Park of the Monsters.

There is something obviously monstrous, yet openly humorous in Gwen van den Eijnde’s baroque costumes. He seems to treat fashion with the distance of a storyteller and the meticulousness of a goldsmith. His costumes are finely cut for fairy-tale creatures and phantasmagoric characters, wearing capes with expanded Vivienne Westwood-inspired butt, delirious bobble horns, paper-made ruffs made or Cossack boots.

The attaching monsters created by Gwen van den Eijnde, that he actually stages himself when presenting his collections, often in an almost Klaus Nomi’esque baroque performative setting, could have indeed found their homes in the Italian Garden of Bomarzo. Enchanting by their excessive proportions, yet impressive by the details of their textures and ornaments, Gwen van den Eijnde’s pieces of clothing astutely combine the gravity of mannerism and the playfulness of a fairy-tale. This subtle ambivalence provides the viewer with a precious feeling of desecration and a discrete veil of childish fantasy.

Martha Kirszenbaum