After just touching down in Shanghai, a very jet-lagged Henrik Vibskov casually replies to our rather long (sorry Henrik) questions via voice message. This Danish multi-talented fashion designer-cum-artist-cum-film director-cum-costume designer-cum-musician and all-round creative genius has the air of a mad scientist about him. Concocting climate-inspired clothes and gravity-defying installations in his Copenhagen laboratory complete with lab coats.
We ask him about everything from salamis and weather to family life. Catch his next experimental show at the Powerlong Museum in Shanghai (China) as part of the group exhibition Wavelength:Reset, which started on the 8th of July and continues until the 8th of October.
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So Henrik, you’re back with a hell of a lot of interesting and wild projects this year. I wonder if you ever get a chance to sleep! How are you since the last time you spoke to us here at METAL?
I’m good! Of course, we always have five to ten projects we’re working on in the pipeline – some are more exhibition related, some are more costume related, some are more product design, fashion, ceramics, etc. I really just like to have lots of things up and running. It’s pretty normal for me, but maybe I’m busier than others.
Obviously, you and your fellow creatives at Henrik Vibskov HQ are incredibly innovative, and everything that comes out of your studio is an explosion of creativity. Do you ever propose ideas and think, ‘wow, that’s too crazy, we can’t do that…’
Yeah. I think there are quite a lot of ideas where we think ‘ok, that’s not possible’ either towards the economy, logistically or practically – like whether it is mobile and able to move around. There are quite a lot of things that we can’t do, or I can’t do, but that’s also the challenge. It doesn’t really matter if you’ve been doing it for one or twenty years, there will always challenges and possibilities that can’t happen.
Your Paris Spring/Summer 2019 collection, Due to Sudden Weather Change, all revolves around the word ‘wind’. Be that paper planes, the sea, or even soap. Where did you get your inspiration for this? Was it the Danish weather?
Yes, basically, we just started looking at how wind shapes clothing when it’s blown around – Denmark is very windy. People who come from Iceland or even high up in Norway visit Denmark and say ‘oh, it’s freezing down here!’ – it’s super windy, so we have that chill factor. But basically, it’s more practicality and logistics in how form and silhouette can be changed with wind. And that’s how the collection started.
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In a previous show, one of your interns fell asleep accidentally – then the show after that bounced off of it by focussing solely on sleep. As you and team’s vibs are constantly working on different projects, do you find that there’s a natural crossover between ideas, or maybe a natural development from project to project?
Sometimes, when we are in the process of working, we think, ‘wow, that was great, can we do that in another way?’ Or maybe consider that method, that way of doing, that shaping, that structure, etc. A lot of things are happening in that process that can inspire new projects. Similarly to the first question, I like to have a lot of things going on because it’s easier for me. You can easily get inspired and maybe relate to other methods or ideas that you’ve just been working on – then twist it in another way but use a similar perspective.
So in the upcoming group exhibition you’re a part of at the Powerlong Museum in Shanghai, you’ve hinted that the exhibition will defy gravity. Is this a development from the idea of ‘wind’ in Due to Sudden Weather Change?
This project is actually something we’ve been working on for a very long time. It was originally made for an exhibition in the courtyard of the V&A Museum (London), but it collapsed due to – not sudden weather change – but budget. When I was asked by the Powerlong Museum if I had an idea that could happen very fast, I suggested the same project but a little more ‘put together’.
I changed the colour scheme so that it was more contrasting, I skipped some of the instruments that went over budget, and it became something else. It’s not really related to the Due to Sudden Weather Change collection, it’s more to do with the idea of what would happen if we lost gravity. Would music be the last thing to stay after we lose gravity? Would everything else fly away? That’s kind of the idea. There are around seventy dolls hanging with their heads down; kind of flying up a bit.
In the exhibition in Shanghai, Wavelength: Reset, artists involved were invited to tackle the issue of ‘fast consumption and sustainable resources in a post-industrial era’. How have you approached this theme, and is your work set to be the weirdest there?
I have seen some of the other works by fellow artists who are tackling the issue. But I think my work was not even related to it at all. I was actually not asked to deal with that question. But the question is something that we deal with in our daily production; we try to work on fabrics that are recycled or organic.
I have seen some of the other works by fellow artists who are tackling the issue. But I think my work was not even related to it at all. I was actually not asked to deal with that question. But the question is something that we deal with in our daily production; we try to work on fabrics that are recycled or organic.
“I just like to layer up ideas on how you perceive what you’re looking at; it can be a theatrical thing, a music experience, a food experience or even just the smell of a donkey. It’s important to try a lot of things out.”
You’re in a band and have always been interested in music – often including it in your installations or catwalk performances. So will The Gravity Orchestra be something intriguing on the ears as well as the eyes?
The Gravity Orchestra plays a recorded sound-check of a symphony orchestra. There are all kinds of tuning instruments; violins, brass and trumpets, all at the same time. It’s this ‘chaos’ track that kind of also gives it that ‘swirl’ where gravity is lost.
Speaking of music, what are you listening to at the moment?
That’s a good question. I’ve been listening to a few older things from a band called Recondita, I think there’s a song called Felicity. Also, the French group called The Place – I tried to get them to play in Denmark two years ago but they never replied, and then a year later, they replied and asked for millions, so I skipped that. I’ve also been listening to the electronic act The Blaze.
I’m not sure where I read it, but someone referred to you as the lovechild of Vivienne Westwood and Malcom McLaren – and everyone can see that you definitely don’t stick to the rules. By blending design with fashion with music with interiors with theatre… (the list goes on)… are you in a complete other world of creative hybridity, or do you see these things as separate from one another?
I never heard about being Vivienne Westwood and Malcom McLaren’s lovechild, but what a great and weird suggestion! (Laughs) I try to use my eyes, my ears and my mouth, and then relate it when I’m testing things. I also have a handcraft skill in textiles and fibres that I try to use as much as I possibly can, and twenty-five years of experience in music. The real reason that I do all of this together is because I’ve spent nearly my whole life working creatively, and I need to keep that lust and passion for doing what I do. Therefore, I brainwash myself; I go out on thin ice to check problems and materials and I try new things out. It’s not just to be bold.
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Always the theatrical, there’s a narrative behind every of your collections or installations. You’ve built your own universe and the characters in it perform whether they are models, donkeys or fabric salamis. Would you ever be able to follow through with a project if it wasn’t dramatic?
Maybe. I just like to layer up ideas on how you perceive what you’re looking at; it can be a theatrical thing, a music experience, a food experience or even just the smell of a donkey. It’s important to try a lot of things out – maybe people like it, maybe they don’t. But I like it when it’s dramatic and lots of things are happening.
If you had to pick a favourite project made so far, what would it be?
Jesus, there’s a lot of questions! I really like some of the older projects – like the salami project. It was a little bit strange and weirdly related to what we eat, how we eat, and whether we should eat meat. Everyone’s becoming vegetarian, so let’s be gross and do a lot of sausages in a weird factory. I also liked the wood heads: the Jaw Nut piece. They were about communication – how we can both communicate and miscommunicate.
How do you juggle all of these projects alongside the fashion calendar of Paris and Copenhagen, family life, university lecturing and being the drummer in Mountain Yorokobu?
That’s a good question. I don’t work until midnight every night, but being creative is not something you can decide when to stop. Sometimes, I wake up at night and have a really great idea, so it’s hard juggling around. Family life is for sure one of the most challenging ones, as I’m also responsible for some other human beings – and they don’t really care about the fashion calendar in Paris, me teaching people as a professor or me playing my music. Of course, they are aware and like that stuff, but it can be challenging.
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What words or ideas are you thinking of now for future possible projects? I really want to know!
I have a little reminder list here with some weird stuff, they’re just small clue words for me. ‘Opera Tongue’, ‘drumming carpet’, ‘propel for geologic projects’, ‘fly machine structure’, ‘fishing trawler’, ‘re-do a whale that I did’, ‘brooms’, ‘human frames’, ‘pasta foods’, ‘singing’, ‘cooking eggs’, ‘mango fries’, ‘legs in the air’, (laughs), ‘eyes and leather’…
One last thing. I love that you notice the difficulties that young designers face today, and set up the PIG Foundation (Practical Intelligent Genius). Could you tell us a little bit about it, and about this years’ prize winner?
So around five or eight years ago, I won a pretty big prize, and I thought, ‘hey, I also want to help other young talent; maybe I should give them some of the money’. But my lawyers said ‘no, you have to do it in another way, blah blah blah’. So he thought (great idea by the way) why not you go out and work, and then the money that you take in gets given to someone else as a donation. So that’s what the PIG foundation is about: I go around doing talks and speeches and then ask people to donate my fee, and that money is given every year to a young Practical Intelligent Genius. This year, it was given to Jiaqing Mo, a Chinese-British student who has been working on theatrical film projects that are super great. I saw her application and thought, ‘yes, she’s the winner’. For the way she tells stories, her visual aesthetic, her strange narratives and surreal worlds. Let’s see what comes up next!
The Wavelength: Reset exhibition will be on view until October 8 at the Powerlong Art Musuem, Shanghai.
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