First visit to document Gisèle’s wardrobe – this one is a three piece wool suit by the Dutch designer Dick Holthaus. Read more about him here.
This month I was awarded a Start-up Grant from the Creative Industry Funds (Stimuleringsfonds Creatieve Industrie). It is for The Warp and Weft of Memory, a project with Castrum Peregrini and writer Kate Pullinger. While currently in the research phase, eventually the project will result in an online narrative exploring the wardrobe of Gisèle d’Ailly van Waterschoot van der Gracht, and the ways in which it reflects her life, work, and various histories through textiles and clothing.
Gisèle at Herengracht 401, exact year unknown, courtesy of
the Castrum Peregrini Foundation
Gisèle d’Ailly van Waterschoot van der Gracht was born to a mother of Austrian nobility and a Dutch father who was a geologist for Royal Dutch Shell. As a child, her father’s work brought the family to the States and various other places until they returned to the Netherlands to live in Bergen. At that time, Bergen was a centre for poetry, literature and the arts; Gisèle took up drawing and painting and befriended eminent literary figures such as E. du Perron and Adriaan Roland Holst.
Moving to Amsterdam to develop her work, it was there that her life took a pivotal turn. As the War encroached, she was asked by the German poet Wolfgang Frommel to hide a group of young Jewish men. Housing them in the upper floors of her Herengracht apartment, she not only took care of their daily needs, but also along with Frommel, tutored them in literature, poetry, and fine art. Castrum Peregrini, Latin for ‘castle of the pilgrims’, became the name of their tiny secret refuge, and after liberation, it became the namesake of the foundation, which at that time focussed on publishing.
Gisèle remained close to Frommel and the men they hid and, continuing her practice as an artist, eventually acquired all of the Herengracht 401 building. Part home and part public space, the Castrum Peregrini Foundation expanded its activities to include exhibitions, symposia and other public events, while still adhering to its core values of friendship, freedom and culture.
In 2013, Gisèle passed away at the age of 100, and since then her apartment, studio, and possessions remain much the same as she left them. Having lost its founder, Castrum Peregrini is now in a state of transition as it reimagines the space of Herengracht 401 without her physical presence.
To look at her legacy and more broadly its relation to cultural heritage, the foundation has initiated a series of projects to be realized between 2017-2018. Different artists and scholars will be reflecting upon Gisèle’s archive, work, and rich collection of possessions, before they are dispersed across a variety of museums, individuals, or resituated within the foundation itself.
“Every poet of furniture — even if he be a poet in a garret, and therefore has no furniture — knows that the inner space of an old wardrobe is deep.”
Gaston Bachelard, The Poetics of Space, 1958
Last spring, I had the opportunity to see Gisèle’s closet, which is filled with clothing spanning decades of her life. The traces of her body can still be sensed through the shape of the clothes; she was a relatively small woman with a slight figure. Even as she grew older, her shoulders curved but her stature remained the same.
Her wardrobe illustrates her fascination with travel, textiles, and design. For example, there is a woollen handmade vest with bright trim from Greece, a vibrantly coloured silk jacket from China, several items that were fashioned specifically for her by the renowned Dutch designer Dick Holthaus, and also there are practical clothes, such as her modest trousers and matching cardigan, which was the daily uniform she wore to her studio. These items not only reflect chapters in Gisèle’s remarkable life, but also the history of the Netherlands before, during, and after the War, women’s roles as they evolved in society, the privileges of class, and the persona of the artist.
Understanding that this collection would also inevitably be dispersed, I spoke to Castrum Peregrini about how her wardrobe could be catalogued in a meaningful way and made available to a broader audience. While Gisèle’s story is more known within a Dutch and German context, little is available English.
Wanting to experiment with combining fact, fiction, and documentary, I will be collaborating with UK based novelist and author of digital fiction Kate Pullinger to create an online narrative. Pullinger’s stories often have strong and at times idiosyncratic female protagonists, and her historical novel, The Mistress of Nothing, and her novelisation with Jane Campion of The Piano, have an acute sense of historical setting. She is also no stranger to working on multi-nodal online stories, with such projects as Inanimate Alice and Landing Gear as well as her digital war memorial, Letter to an Unknown Soldier.
Pullinger and I have discussed how we could mix genres by bringing together digitized photographs, illustrations, archival footage, interviews, images made by Gisèle herself, alongside companion texts which we will write. Tentatively titled The Warp and Weft of Memory, the aim is to create a multi-nodal web-based narrative that can be synthesized through a variety of entry points, such as place, theme, person, event, or a chain of other related objects. While each garment will have its own story, it can be woven into a fabric of other narratives.
As a collection, Gisèle wardrobe poses numerous challenges both narratively and visually. It is tactile and intimate, and despite being a screen based project, that kind of materiality and subtleness is important to convey. The garments encompass the biographical, but also reference larger Dutch and European histories. To return to Bachelard’s sentiments, “the inner space of an old wardrobe is deep”, especially in relation to memory.
A very big thanks to:
Join us Wednesday the 26th of October for a lecture by Jan Verwoert followed by a discussion.
Location: Kralingse Zoom 91
It may be too simple to put it this way, but: attitudes towards how the body and soul of art relates the forces of power, sex and money may have drastically changed from the 80s to the 90s to the 00s.
In the 80s the word was out that history is over and all we are left with is supermarkets and museums filled with dead stuff that looks cool but won’t talk. So all you could do was take stuff off the shelf and make it look even cooler (appropriation).
In the 90s history came back in a big way: You can’t be cool when the cold war is over. No one knows where things are going, but the world gives you new hopes, cheap flights and house music, but equally old ghosts, recent traumas, returning in civil wars. None of this is about stuff or properties, it’s all about situations, improvisations, lots of talk and blasts from the past, it’s about energies, ecstasies and brutalities which none owns but many feel passing through their bodies, much like a medium channels forces (invocation).
In the 00s the rich got richer, money was back and so was the market. But what to sell when all that glitters is the screen and what’s on it is virtual and infinitely available on the internet? What makes the singular download more sexy than a file that circulates freely? And what to do with your own body when there is so many bodies online and the money for the rent is too tight to mention? Accelerate consumption? Learn from the 80s but make it better, slicker, digital, hormonal, and draw out those white lines longer and longer (supercommodification).
Now what if we work but the drugs don’t and Prozac lets us down? Then souls may wirelessly connect, search for medicine and meet on the world_wide_astral_pl@ne.
Jan Verwoert is a critic and writer on contemporary art and cultural theory, based in Berlin. He is a contributing editor of frieze magazine, his writing has appeared in different journals, anthologies and monographs. He teaches at the Piet Zwart Institute Rotterdam, the de Appel curatorial programme and the Oslo National Academy of the Arts. He is the author of Bas Jan Ader: In Search of the Miraculous, MIT Press/Afterall Books 2006, the essay collection Tell Me What You Want What You Really Really Want, Sternberg Press/Piet Zwart Institute 2010, together with Michael Stevenson, Animal Spirits — Fables in the Parlance of Our Time, Christoph Keller Editions, JRP, Zurich 2013 and a second collection of his essays Cookie! published by Sternberg Press/Piet Zwart Institute 2014.
I often wonder what you think of us, and for that matter, the school of your namesake, as you gaze silently down from the stairwell. There’s something erotic about your masculine pose, the way your soft white shirt is unbuttoned at the top, and how your plush corduroy pants outline the slight tilt of your posture. Admittedly, I have a thing for men in corduroys – maybe it’s that professorial fetish I’ve had since I was a teenager – an analyst would say it’s a father complex I’m sure.
As my eyes occasionally catch yours in passing, there are so many questions:
What do you think about us – did you ever imagine this?
What was it like at the Black Mountain College?
Did you even use the word ‘curriculum’, or was there simply an unspoken order to the lessons?
What was it like to work with Josef and Anni Albers, John Cage, Harry Callahan, Mary Callery, Merce Cunningham, Edward Dahlberg, Max Dehn, Buckminster Fuller, Walter Gropius, and Jacob Lawrence?
Did you eat and drink together?
Did students see you contradict each other in conversation?
Were you in the garden when Buckminster Fuller experimented with his geodesic domes?
Bill, there are so many things I want to speak with you about… if you’re around and have a little time, can you PM me? I’m uncertain whether I’m on the right track with my teaching, and so need your advice.
There’s nothing like looking back at your own work and realizing most of it has disappeared with the way of the web, and there ain’t no Wayback Machine that will ever put it back again. Reduced to a few remaining jpegs of crappy resolution screenshots, there’s a sense of frustration, but then I remember that’s exactly what I’ve always loved about working online. It’s ephemeral, or said less highbrow, it’s disposable – links get made and are broken, social networks form and collapse, frames get deprecated, html grows old, Flash (let’s not talk about it), and hardware dies….. and all those ones and zeros continue to proliferate, indifferent to my little kingdom in decay.
When I took avian ecology in university my professor, Warren Pulich, always professed that crows are the smartest of birds. He said getting their skins (used for identification classes) was difficult, because they always knew when you were out to catch them. Now it appears, he wasn’t just telling a tall Texas tale….. “These results show that crows will avoid an area or thing that is deemed dangerous to their own species. In other words, they know what death is and know to fear it.” Read more…