Henrik Vibskov – maker of universes
The multi-disciplinary Danish artist Henrik Vibskov (b. 1972) is always newsworthy for one reason or another. In 2011 he won the coveted Torstein and Wanja Söderberg Prize. In the spring of 2014 he created the costumes for Alexander Ekman’s A Swan Lake at Oslo’s Opera House. Just recently he held a solo exhibition at the Design Museum in Helsinki, and in June of this year, he showcased his latest collection at Paris Fashion Week. The magazine Kunsthåndverk caught up with him betwixt and between his many projects.
Against his will, many people have tried to describe and categorize Henrik Vibskov: avant-gardist, Renaissance man, fashion designer, drummer, artist. The point is that Vibskov does many different things. He has his own clothing label, plays drums for various musical projects such as ‘Trentemøller’ and is scheduled to collaborate with the Icelandic artist Bjørk – also described as an avant-gardist – in connection with producing the album ‘Medúlla’ at the Brussles Opera. He is also preparing for a large solo exhibition at Daelim Contemporary Art Museum in Seoul and developing a perfume.
OK. Many projects. Difficult to categorize. But there is one characteristic common to all Vibskov’s projects: he uses a conceptual approach. The conceptual framework for presenting each new clothing collection is developed to the Nth degree; it causes wonderment, combines beauty and ugliness, and is always surprising and innovative. Another characteristic is the high-quality handicraft that goes into all he makes, be it a knitted garment, a print on clothing, or the objects that coalesce to become the ‘world’ surrounding a new collection.
Just reading the titles of Vibskov’s collections ignites the imagination: The Fantabulous Bicycle Music Factory, Big Wet Shiny Boobies, The Human Laundry Service, The Solar Donkey Experiment. These titles indicate the conceptual frameworks in which his collections are presented. Everything hangs together in a strange way. Talking via telephone from Copenhagen, Vibskov says he tends to explain his artistic practice as to set up a universe that includes worlds or particular societies with characteristics used to represent the respective societies.
‘We try to create identities that reflect the construed society, the concept or story we’ve developed’, he explains.
In the monograph Henrik Vibskov (2012), social anthropologist Camilla R. Simpson reflects on Vibskov’s worlding’:
‘One thing is clear to me after spending time at the Henrik Vibskov Studio and together with the man himself, is the fact that wherever he goes, whatever he does, he builds up little worlds around himself. Like a scenography that automatically pops up around him, as he inhabits a space.’
Vibskov is widely known for creating strange worlds where the clothes become costumes and the catwalk becomes a stage for performance and theatre. But he is also acclaimed for the fantastic handicraft used in making his clothes:
‘The modern society we live in is moving faster and faster, so I think people like it when they can relate to things that are already used, which have taken a long time to make. Handicraft and uniqueness are more valuable than 3D prints. The way we work with our hands has always been relevant. The biggest change, since I graduated from Central St. Martins in 2001, doesn’t have to do with more-or-less handmade things, but rather that there is now a greater acceptance of the idea that designers can also work with other artistic expressions. It’s OK now to be multi-disciplinary. That wasn’t the case earlier’, says Vibskov.
The multi-disciplinary aspect of Vibskov’s practice – particularly the way he contextualizes his collections with theatre and other art forms – provokes the thought that people in general feel a need to categorize:
‘Maybe I stress people out when they can’t categorize or define what I do. It may be that I’m more of a musician than a fashion designer. I’ve performed music for more than 30 years. I don’t like to think that much about what I am. I don’t need to define myself, and nor do I feel that is my role. All I need to do is be productive. When you’ve been part of a creative world for many years, it’s the working and playing with new concepts that you’re passionate about.’
So you don’t like it that people try to describe and define you and your works?
‘No, actually. In a recent New York Times article, I was described as ‘the new Renaissance man’. What the fuck is that about? I don’t understand it – and I don’t like the word.’
Vibskov’s play is always about renewing his expression, but it is also about giving people an experience that challenges their conventional ideas about what a fashion show, a dance costume, a catwalk or a cardigan sweater is.
Identities and Prune Cake
OK. Finished with trying to create definitions and complicated explanations. Vibskov’s universe consists of many parts that are what they are. Shall we put it like that? Our interest lies in the societies he creates, and in their attendant identities. Both parts are indefinable. Vibskov’s models often wear strange hats and vision-test glasses. He may use a wig that completely obscures a model’s face, or a crown topped with a plastic propeller. He equalizes gender differences by dressing male models in skirts and by supressing facial identification.
While all the starting points for presenting his clothes are similar, the expressions are completely different. Clothes are about expressing ourselves and communicating something to those around us. Vibskov has often said that clothes and fashion constitute one of our fastest systems of communication.
‘It’s not my job to determine what people want to communicate by wearing my clothes, but I hope that for some people, it has to do with a relation to one of our performances, concepts or stories. All the clothes have a sewn-in label with the name of the collection they belong to.’
Do you wear clothes from your collections?
‘No. I usually use the same boring clothes all the time. I was probably a bit wilder in my younger years. I have three identical pairs of trousers and four identical shirts. So it looks like I use the same clothes every day and never wash them. It’s like the apple seller who is so tired of apples, when he goes home, he will never make an apple cake. Probably he doesn’t make prune cake either’, Vibskov concludes.
Cecilie Tyri Holt is editor of the Norwegian crafts Kunsthåndverk where this interview was originally published.