Anita Evenepoel

At least ten years had passed since I last visited Anita Evenepoel. Apparently, nothing had changed. The table designed by her husband-architect still stood in the same place and still functioned as the axis of the Jansen-Evenepoel household. Exactly on this spot in the mill, there was a pile of documents, photos and newspaper articles. A lot had changed all the same. Her preference for soft and mobile materials attracted Anita Evenepoel to textile. She soon found out that one could hardly make a living as an independent artist. That is why she started a side-activity which consisted of making cloths, 'exclusive cloths' as her friends and acquaintences called it. No made-to- measure products of a seamstress, but rather experiments of a couturier. She was mainly preoccupied with the finishes and fasteners. She produced leather clothing which adorned the body like a piece of jewellery. It is this continuous experimental dialogue or cross pollination between body and jewel that reoc- curs time and again in her oeuvre. We could represent the global image of her activities graphically as an always recurring wave motion. During the experiment, she effortlessly discovers a number of features of the materials which she then purifies until she has power over their image. As soon as Anita has control over the working process of these materials in order to reach her objective, it is play-time again. One phase automatically flows over into the other: thus, she evolves from tissues to clothing, to experimental jewellery and clothing, to theatre costumes. During repetitions in her costumes, Anita is by nature interested by their movements. She integrates this fourth dimension in her moving settings by means of air and light. I cannot but think that if Oscar Schlemmer (... - ...) were still alive, they would form a wonderful couple. I think of the statical geometric volumes by Schlemmer transposed in our era of multi-media. But as far as the future of Anita Evenepoel is concerned, she will always remain a pioneer, as has already been stated at several occasions in the past. Who influences who, that is and remains the question. Like Ineke Jungschleger wrote in the Volkskrant on the occasion of an exhibition in the Netherlands: "Each fashion is twice ridiculous, once when it starts and once when it ends17." One thing is certain, pioneers must fight harder and their fortune is enclosed in the treasure- chest of personal contacts.
Anita Evenepoel is no flash in the pan. She is unable to accept the transience of fashion in which all good ideas are briefly touched upon and then put aside. The only exception to this rule is Issey Miyake (...) for whom she has a great admiration. She is mainly attracted by the analysis and structure of his collec- tions. This fits in perfectly with her education as a mathema- tician and her interest for architecture.

Experimental jewellery
Her use of new fasteners in clothing gives rise to a vivid interest to also produce them as independent objects. Thus, she turns broaches into buttons. The broach is a circle cut in the shape of a star through which a button is fitted in the front of a coat where it functions as fastener. The jewellery as utensil, as part of the body, is born. Anita discovered the rubber material. It was her good fortune that the discovered material had the characteristic of transforming the flat surface into a three-dimensional object by means of notches. Rubber also presented the advantage that the side for cutting is beautiful. But rubber is also very pliable. A rubber tube is bent around the neck or arm and fastened by means of plexiglass tubes. (photo 1) In the collection "Parures" (photo 2) of 1984, Anita cut large rubber sheets. To prevent them from tearing she made use of round shapes.
By making use of the material's stiffness, erect shapes come into being. A multitude of parallel notches make the material more flexible18. These 'parures' are completely based on the shape of the circle which is cut in strips. The processing of the basic form gives rise to a formal change. The black collars of the coats follow the movements of the body like a cape and are deepened by the movements of the mannequin. When they are hung or laid down they again become objects19. With this col- lection, Anita was in those days the odd woman out in the Belgian jewellery scene and she found connection in the Ne- therlands. In the eighties, the Netherlands and Great-Brittain were the mecca for the experimental jewellery. In 1984, she exhibited in Gallery Ra in Amsterdam and this provoked her international breakthrough. The various attitudes of the different countries was clearly sketched in the exhibition 'Attitudes' in the ICC in Antwerp, composed by the Department Creative Craft of the ESIM in Brussels20.

Experimental clothing
Her clothing and 'parures' are so perfectly tuned into each other as basis and support, that they merged in her next collec- tion. The clothing became jewellery. This took her one step further than the integration of the fastening object as jewel- lery on a piece of clothing. Once again, we may speak of a cooperation between the material and the technique. Anita did no longer braide the seams, yet starched the edges. Subsequently, two rectangular pieces of tissue were put one on top of the other and stitched together only with circular holes. The head and arms went through the holes. In 1984, on the catwalk in St- Lambrechts-Woluwe during the show "Les Paradoxes de la Mode" (The paradoxes of fashion), the mannequin provoked enormous dynamics by moving with the flapping pieces of tissue. During the same show, she presented starched corsages. The silk corsa- ges were independent works of art. They remained erect thanks to the use of synthetic starch. The form was monumental because of the starched protrusions. The pointed ends were a formal challenge to test the eventual breaking point. In a wonderful photoreport by the famous Dutch photographer Anna Beeke, they imitated the punk hairstyle of the model (photo 3). By now, we have become accustomed to this style of adornment, but in 1985 this was far from evident in Belgium. In a further search for outrageous materials, she discovered cotton with a polyurethan coating. In her capacity of a trendsetter, she used these new materials which no longer aimed at imitating leather and thus stopped being fake. They inspired her for a new collection of clothing in which clothes and jewellery again became one. The dress was made of coated cotton and had been given a very geometrical form. From navel to back, a transparant light filter was integrated for theatrical purposes. This part of the body had now become the jewel (photo 4).
On the occasion of Paula Abdul's World Tour in 1991, she designed some hundred costumes in Los Angeles for the famous pop star and her dancers. Anita Evenepoel's frantic search for new materials, led her in the case of some of these costumes to Neoprene with which she had already shortly experimented in 1988 for the dance ensemble ISO. In a first stage, Anita designed very simple coats in black neopreme. For her first pieces, she manually cut elegant spiral motifs which hung loosely from the coats like little clouds. Thanks to the dance movements, these curl motifs led a life of their own. The notches in the hats also caused an ambiguous effect. The borderline between hat, hairdress, wig or hair curls was vague. To make the collection complete, she made use of blanking (punching?). One of these beautiful coats (photo 5) was on display in the exhibition "Stof tot nadenken - 12 x textiel" in 1993 in the Museum for Decorative Arts in Ghent. These experiments once again illustrated her search to design clothing in an alternative manner.

Experimental costumes
Anita soon realised that her clothing and jewellery received a surplus value when they were put on show. She wanted to make 'moving tissues'. She used dance to present her clothing. Static clothing does not exist, in dance you see the piece of clothing from all angles. In dance you can exploit the fourth dimension. In 1985, she produced the piece "Moving tissues" together with choreographer Eric Raevens for the Warande in Turnhout. She was especially stimulated by the cooperation in this experience. She developed a genuine taste for theatre. She travelled with this production through the Flemish circuit and was invited in the Shaffy Theatre in Amsterdam and on the Springdance festival in Utrecht.
The subject of her own productions invariably is the costume. She gives an image of the various functions of the costume and tunes in on the signals which those costumes may evoke. Thus she represented seduction, competition, comics, opera and parade in "Peau d'Ane" (Donkey skin) of 1988. The box (photo 6) was a parody on Japanese couture. It was a costume with several exits. The physical act of attraction and rejection of man and woman was represented by the application of hook & loop fastener on both costumes which made a noice when they were torn apart with force.

Costumes make the theatre21.
The search for the plastic possibilities of costumes, brought her in contact with the New York dance ensemble ISO. In 1988, this dance ensemble asked her to design a number of costumes. The central theme of this production with the titel "Time out" (photo 7), was a journey through time. It was a rather fast sequence of short scenes that evoked powerful and penetrating images. The dancers took the spectators along on a journey between dream and reality like in "Alice in Wonderland"22. Again, the costumes contributed to the story's content. They were designed by mutual agreement with the dancers. One dancer wanted a costume that integrated the play of lines of ondulating bundles of muscles in the costume and thus in the movement. Anita Evenepoel applied incisions on strategic places in a black "cat-suit". Since the suit was made of black jersey which is extensible in two directions, the incisions transformed from narrow stripes into ovals during the dance. Against a black background, the figure danced like a moving skeleton. The skeleton was not meant as a reference to death, yet as a pure line of force of our body. The dance gave the impression of a cinematic graphism.
The mutual coherence between costume and movement urged her to play with the surrounding space too. The space around the body is as important as the members of the body themselves. Against a black and white background, the figures danced dressed in equal black and white stripes that merged with the setting. This bas- relief evoked a very spatial effect. Thus, the costume also became architecture23.
In her productions "Code" (1989) and "Grieg? Grieg!" (1990) and in the performance of Jan De Wilde with Prima La Musica (1991)24 moving settings remained the central theme.
Recently, Evenepoel is mainly experimenting with volumes that are evoked by air. Ventilators help in representing trolls in the production " Grieg? Grieg!". In "Time Out", she experimented with weight and gravity without additional means. She designed a dress that grows by stitching strips of synthetic tissue together with elastic bands. At the bottom, she has hung lead balls which emprison all the air in the growing dress. On the occasion of Antwerp 93, Cultural Capital of Europe, Piet Slange organised a concert for children with two merry-go- rounds. It was a real spectacle. Anita made the costumes and dressed the merry-go-rounds. Balloons were attached beneath the different porches. Just like ?? sails take a round shape because of the wind, the textile doors flew colourfully into the air. The play of air and volume continues to intrigue her. At the beginning of this year, Anita Evenepoel again dressed an Italian dance ensemble. She designed costumes consisting of the most simple geometrical forms. Because of the dance movements they gasped for air and as by magic transformed themselves into wonderful volumes. As always, Evenepoel pushed the experiment to the point where she mastered it completely.
First there was air and gravity ... what will be next?

Hilde D'Haeseleer