For those who use clothing as an avenue to express their art, the creativity involved merits a special appreciation. It stretches the boundaries within a concept with which we are all familiar and connected to… after all, we (even if only sometimes) wear clothes. Molding textures, colours and an abundance of mixed media creative clothing is, when done well, wearable art. Used as an ingredient in the art of photography and handmade as intricately as any fine art painting, fashion clothing – couture – is the other dimension of 3D sculpture, experienced from the inside and to be admired from the outside.
Bartholomäus Wischnewski, the man behind CEXN, has been creating unique pieces of clothing that have evolved along with his own personal journey. Interestingly, he avoids using the word ‘fashion’ to describe his creations. Brought to life in 2009 as he graduated from his studies, CEXN morphed once again in 2011 and became a joint outlet between him and fellow designer Dana Mikelson, who brought a level of fine art costume to the brand. Many of their pieces could be purchased or rented making couture clothing more accessible as they created a new gateway to transformation. After years of thriving creations, Dana has recently left to start her own label; I caught up with Bartholomäus to learn more about the man behind CEXN and see how he is enjoying latest chapter of the story.
Natalia: Thank you for taking the time to speak with me on behalf of beautiful.bizarre. One of the things I noticed most frequently is that CEXN clothing is often described as ‘clothing art’. How to you personally describe your process of merging fashion and art?
Bartholomäus: It’s still hard to describe what I am doing here. For me, art is the claim to show the particularistic view of your world and to inspire others. I’ve never done anything with the premise to be in or to follow an existing trend. I do not even want to talk about fashion in the context of my clothes. I work in this creative outlet, but only when I feel that something special might rise out of it. I think others make fashion better than me. Nevertheless, I had to give my works a name. You could also say, wearable body concepts transferred to pictures.
N: Have you always had a love for couture?
B: I wouldn’t call it love because it’s more an interest, a curiosity. My mother is a trained clothing technician and therefore sewing and design have always been with me from day one. I began thinking about what people are wearing from a very early age, if it suits their personality and how clothing communicates to other people.
As a child of a Peruvian father and a half-Polish, half-German mother, I grew up in the Polish post-communism, in a population that was proud to shout out about its freedom. After the revolution by Walesa, in school, we were still forced to wear school uniforms, which were dictated by communist officials. Clothing has been used to force people into line and to suppress them. The symbolic value of clothing or exterior appearance has a strong effect on the character and the act of the subject in its future. Our family never accepted this form of human suppression. Optical conformity and parochialism is against our nature and always leads to the demise of a culture.
Certainly, my past and my multicultural background have something to do with how I make my stuff. I go away from orders.
N: The lean away from conformity is most definitely recognizable in your works. What would you say is your aim in creating CEXN?
B: The thing is clear to me is that I’m looking for something, I just do not know what it is yet *laughs*. CEXN is a journey. I have the urge to do things, because I feel that I have to do it. I don’t care so much about success, it’s more about meeting people and the creative process. Only then, I feel do I feel I am doing the right thing. Commercial success or not, the fact is that many special people contact me and reflect my creations. After CEXN had operated as a commercial project for several years, I realized that this is exactly what I don’t want to do. The pressure to meet the time and design specifications kills my creativity. My partner and I went different ways and we work on an independent base now. I appreciate her for her skills and it’s cool for me to think about the past times, because we were a good team on the design level.
Since the beginning of 2016, I’ve work alone when I really want to work on CEXN. I focus on collaborations that are compatible with my designs. Many of the unwanted collaborations in the past had a gloomy touch. I removed a lot of them from my portfolio simply because they don’t fit to my personality any longer. I open myself for new ways that have more to do with my heart.
N: Some of your pieces are certainly more wearable than others. Are all of your pieces for rent or for sale?
B: I have given away a lot of older designs, I didn’t sell over the years, to creatives from my Facebook network. I had to reset. Currently, there are four sets available for rent and I’m working on photography projects including my designs; when I’m done with them I will give them away to someone.
Why [am I] doing that? Some creatives among us will find the answer to this question. I give away the possession to make space in my mind for new ideas.
N: Your concepts are easily recognizable with their predominant shapes and unusual manipulation of the materials you use. What drew you towards your current style?
B: Since 2016, there are four important changes.
- I work independently.
- I do not work with the claim that things have to last forever, because I do not need to sell them anymore.
- I do not work with leather anymore.
- I focus on the photographic field now more intensely.
The move away from leather has moved me to think about how I can continue doing everything to implement the shapes and turn it vegan. It has given me new opportunities and now I go on with experiments with objects from nature. The effects of heat and humidity play a major role in the experimentation process. I never keep an object in its original form, unless I realize that it is just perfect for me.
In the beginning, my designs were expressively harder, now they are floral-soft. This symbiosis is still very exciting for me. The works own life and movement within… this is how I describe my style. The new garments already look a little different.
N: Your changes for 2016 are very exciting! How do they make you feel?
B: Amazing. I feel like more complete. I work with people willing to rise to an idea on a free independent base now. You don´t work for money, you work for an idea, because you feel you HAVE to do it somehow. To have the claim to sell something, you have to produce what the people want you to do. It´s a complete another way for a creative process. I don’t think it works out with me now. In the past some of the customers asked to produce something twice. I really didn’t like it. I create one single, unique object to make people come together- and it’s good like this.
N: What led to the move away from using leather? Did you become vegan yourself?
B: Most of the time I live vegan. For me the thing is clear now: I don´t have the right to use the skin of a dead animal and put it on somebody’s neck or head. Even if it looks cool, and the people say “wow, it looks cool, it’s amazing!” I always felt stupid doing this. Things can change and so do I. It´s important to be open minded and something new will rise out of it.
N: Can you tell me a bit more about how you create such raw and intricate pieces?
B: It takes hours and hours of mental work. Sometimes I even spend more time to create a mental concept than to make an object. It’s like meditation for me. Often I start with a base… an object that’s completed like an assemblage by putting more and more objects into it. This often results in a combination with wire in liquid, floral shapes. I almost never draw an idea completely. Just a little shape or a squibble. I collect a lot of inspiration from the presence of my heart. It’s just there, and most of the time a have a specific image of the costume in a photo. I’m actually not that good in producing clothing, but rather in thinking in pictures around the body.
The vibration inside your body is waiting to be released. Sometimes that happens through music, sometimes by a smell, and sometimes by meeting other people. Certainly the knowledge I collected during my studies of education, sociology and psychology have helped making things that look like this. I’ve always been fascinated by anthropology. The last year I was travelling all across South America; I was looking for the native America and I partly found it there. My next trip to Peru is simultaneously a journey to my roots, but also a trip to the natives to collect some inspiration.
N: Wow, I can’t wait to see how your further travels evolve CEXN even more! Talking about merging influences, do you often work in collaboration with other designers?
B: No, not very often. This does not mean that I’m not open-minded. I like working with other people, but I realized that it is difficult to combine my clothes with other extravagant designs. The collaborative creation would have to be rather simple; otherwise, it looks kind of overloaded.
N: You’ve also worked in collaboration with various artists across the realm of photography, film, and music. Do you find these genres differ in experiences as a collaborator?
B: In general, I’m interested in artists from different areas. In my current profession in the event sector, I often see different cultural forms. The work in the clothing sector for artists with cash is not always easy. You have to sell yourself somehow. The fact that I’m financially independent of CEXN, allows me to act when I have the feeling that things fit together. In the past, we have often worked with musicians. Some of the collaborations were great – some of them not. Working with people on stage is simply no longer so important. I am a boy with a simple background. I like honest people.
N: Is there anyone that you would love to collaborate with in the future?
B: Yes, with good and positive people who like to express something from the inside… those are people I’m looking for. Because there are many, and some of them show their beauty in the unusual. They may have a complicated personality; often this is even interesting to me.
Costume: Bartholomäus Wischnewski & Dana Mikelson | Photography: Claudia Wycisk | Model: Sandra | Make up & hair: Elena Becker / Redken Artists | Assistance: Anika Lauer
N: Coming back to the fact that you have a predominant ‘day job’ as well, how do you think CEXN would have developed if it had been your focus professionally, rather than a personal side project?
B: You know, there’re many people doing amazing projects professionally. I know a lot of them. However, it doesn’t mean you can pay your bills at the end of the month. For me, and my son, it’s better to have the financial stability of doing a “normal” work. The rest of the time, you can free your mind and spend it on a free project… on something you really want to do. At the beginning in 2009, I was producing bags made out of leather – it was ok and I had many commissions, but there was no time for new ideas AND I worked with leather. Honestly – in a world full of Kardashians, I can’t sell the stuff I’m doing now immediately. You don’t wear such headpieces, going to a supermarket, buying a bread or something *laughs*. One day maybe CEXN will turn to a profit project again, it’s a process. As I told you, CEXN is a journey.
N: It most certainly is! Since you started, you’ve worked on almost every bit of the body. Do you have a favorite type of clothing that you enjoy making?
B: I currently focus on the head and the torso area. Right now, I have portrait photos in mind and I really enjoy making these pictures come true. This area is also interesting for many photographers and makeup artists. This is actually a little hike, because I have made many shoes during my training as costume maker.
N: Do you have any upcoming features or events?
B: I have the need to produce pictures, new designs, and shoot them with many creatives in my workshop almost every week. Photographers, models and makeup artists. In a very relaxed atmosphere with coffee and cake, together we produce pictures with my creations and without them. Everyone is asked to bring in their knowledge and we learn from each other in an informal creative process. I’m running into two very interesting collaborations with photographers from the fashion sector at the end of April. It’s a larger photo production. I’m already looking forward to the results.
N: Last question now: What advice would you give to other artists looking to develop their own ‘clothing art’?
B: Oh! This one is hard. I don’t really know, Natalia. I think I’m not in the position to give an advice to other people. I mean it’s important to look behind the wall, and free your inner circle and to show it to other people because every one of us is very special. For me it’s very a basic aspect to develop the human culture.
Oh, I know, this one is important… don’t watch too much TV. You will find the time to see.
N: Thank you so much Bartholomäus for taking the time to speak with me. We can’t wait to see what you create in the future!