“ Mais il courbe et recourbe le pli, les pousse à l’infini, pli sur pli, pli selon pli. Le trait du Baroque, c’est le pli qui va à l’infini.”
(Gilles Deleuze, Le Pli: Leibnitz et le Baroque)
Spread out like an impossible butterfly, a bipartite garment recalling a Baroque men’s coat lies flat upon a table – blank, enigmatic, ascetically white. Where the two sides meet, the heavy fabric ripples and undulates in a sensuous coacervation of folds. We think of the portentous meeting of tectonic plates, or the miraculous parting of waters, both lost in the oceans of time.
The fold is the pulsating heart of Gwen van den Eijnde’s art – its material foundation, its rhythm, as well as its intellectual aim. The fold – with all its implications and possibilities – unites his remarkably diverse and profound body of work.
The deceptively simple act of folding suggests doubling, the demarcation of an inside and an outside, the opening and closing of a book and its very construction. Folding also implies unfolding, unveiling, and peeling away – the discovery and dissemination of knowledge. In conception, presentation, and affect, Gwen’s garments can be scriptural and booklike, inviting the viewer to experience the surprising sensations embedded in their tantalisingly textural layers.
With folding comes twisting, bending, dislocation. And in Gwen’s magically manipulated universe bustle pillows are transformed into stately ruffle collars, feathers sprout from human scalps, and musketeer gloves are worn around the mouth, like beaked masks to ward off a future plague. Identity – of the model as well as the garment – is veiled and twisted by the repositioning of familiar items. In this world, creation is an act of deconstruction and re-presentation. A poignant meditation on the problem of the fragment.
Of course, even time folds back onto itself, crushing the illusion of its linear trajectory. Just as the Renaissance draped itself onto the memory of classical antiquity, so our postmodern present readily collapses into the shards of a lost Rococo world. Take that alarmingly pink mask – made from disassembled Nike shoes. It points to early écorché studies – undoubtedly – but the memory of the eighteenth-century anatomical prints of Le Blon, merges with their latter-day manifestation in the infamous plastinated corpses of the Body Worlds exhibitions. Present and past, high and low fold into each other to bring forth something disquietingly new. Here, as in the Age of Enlightenment, science, art, and spectacle blend.
Just as theatre is the essence of the Baroque spirit, the tactile textile architectures of Gwen’s creations embody in their mesmerizing revolutions the disorienting dreamscapes of the stage. Conceived as volumetric sketches, his carefully engineered bozzetti for the opera do much more than decorate a setting. They bring to life a timeless vision – utopian in so far as no single place or topos could account for them or circumscribe them. Through the revolution and discombobulation enacted by the fold, space-age Shinto priests play grand viziers in high-viz fabrics, overseeing draped workmen descended from the enigmatic Dutch peasants of Caesar van Everdingen. Eschewing definition – lexical as well as geographic – these sketches embrace the realm of universal experience, inspiring a collective dream that blurs the boundaries of creative pursuits.
Perhaps what makes all of Gwen’s fashion designs so compelling is not that they are about history or spectacle, but rather that in their making they are a poetic meditation on human culture. In that sense, they are art. They are theatre.