I deliberately chose the title from a song by Laurie Anderson to describe the prolific crossover work of artist Tina Cassati. Firstly, the song is a rendition of a well known fairy tale and secondly, music forms a very important part of the designer artist’s work, who incidentally also resides in Berlin.
“Hansel and Gretel are alive and well
And they’re living in Berlin
She is a cocktail waitress
He had a part in a Fassbinder film
And they sit around at night now drinking schnapps and gin
And she says: Hansel, you’re really bringing me down
And he says: Gretel, you can really be a bitch
He says: I’ve wasted my life on our stupid legend, when my one and only love was the wicked witch.”
Cassati introduces a veritable secret garden of imagery that has at its best a layered complexity which blends a nostalgia for past notions of beauty with folkloric narratives and a fantasy of identities. On a superficial level her compositions are richly stylised and saturated portraits with baroque and renaissance overtones, but they reveal a deeper symbolism and sensitivity that is the true nature of her work; an underlying melancholy suffused with beauty.
But all is not just pleasure and peace in this garden; there is also much work, ‘I prefer to work at home and in nature. In a separate studio I feel not comfortable, the best would be a lonely garden to work for me’
Furthermore it is not surprising that she also identifies with the romantic character of sleeping beauty, ‘it’s nice to sleep in a castle 100 years, entwined by roses and being kissed by a beautiful prince awake, be happy, days until the end of all’
This element of solitude and longing is strongly reflected especially in her portraits. They are as much voyeuristic as they are confrontational. Her women are depicted as proud and noble, carefully encrusted with natural jewels and flowers, befitting of their implied stature, but nonetheless the pervasive sense of sadness is difficult to shake. This characterisation is what transports one into her otherworldly reality that is practically bursting with the residue of some botanical collision.
Tina’s animated theatre further develops into ‘sculpture le mode’; conceptual fashion installations created from the her visual archive and re-constructed couture. This embodiment adds another dimension that reveals her multi-faceted talent for theatre. In her vernacular she defines, re-interprets and inventively expands the philosophies and stories of her spirit of life.
Italo Calvino’s words on folklore capture it perfectly;
‘those who know how rare it is in popular (and non-popular) poetry to fashion a dream without resorting to escapism, will appreciate these instances of a self-awareness that does not deny the invention of a destiny, or the force of reality which bursts forth into fantasy.’
The pagan allusions and pious portraiture mix uncomfortably to create a warped mirror, which as in fairy tales reflects the intrigue and darkness hidden amidst all the colourful scenery filled with treasure and medieval talismans.
While some of her work reminds one of the dark romantic narratives of Goya and Dante, some of the garden scenes and portraits show a strong resemblance to the storytelling of characters from popular allegorical works like those of Hieronymus Bosch. This mutability she achieves by utilising different light and contrasts to lead the viewer into the scene and thread her way deeper into the layered compositions. The profound accumulation of aesthetics in the images portraying costumes and postures become a fashion look-book of sorts; a testament to the inspirations of nature, equally bridging our notions and concepts of the historical and the futuristic. There is a strong and purposeful manipulation of costume that echoes her dramatic sensibilities.
Her different series’ of works speak of the focus and exhausting passion with which she pours into it, but as she admits, ‘ But I need breaks in order not to fall into a routine,I work in the breaks even on new costumes , ideas and concepts. That takes time to grow everything ‘
And growing is what she does, her garden produces strange fruits and flowers all scented with her appreciation for nature’s power and the undeniable connection we have with it, ‘I love the nature , my greatest love, my source of inspiration , the seasons, the plants and animals. In our hectic time, find I there calm and peace. I would also like to show that human and animal belong together in the cycle of nature combines; with respect for each other, we are all together on this earth, each in his function.’ Her work is not about metamorphosis as much as it is about expressing this symbiosis.
Tina Cassati’s thematically defined bodies of recent work include ‘moderno il Casanova’ which features mostly male subjects in a beautiful exploration of modern male identities and ‘giardino di arte’ which centres around women in their infinite variety, of which she remarks, ‘Oh yes … Incidentally, women are flowers’
Even as she borrows from iconic art-historical references, she succeeds in contemporising them not merely by surreal or stylistic addition, but by artistic integration. Like performers in an ongoing play, they are awaiting their cue; these speechless characters with their hidden content are anticipating consciousness. This suspense is imperative to the dense visual drama that crawls with such symbolic detail; a significant silence that leads to a profound self-revelation.
The practicality surrounding her creations that become these vivid images is expressed through the design and manufacture of recycled costume. Pieces of vintage clothing is fashioned into new creations that form the basis of her collections and are further manipulated into collaged compositions. This re-creative craft is sometimes then further combined with music to bring about a contextual experience and to introduce a more autobiographical interpretation to the work.
As she explains, ‘ The music is very important to me, they can return the best outside of that inner. I love the music, pictures and music belong to me many times together,’ and similarly she views the literary references that accompany the work; they are part of the initial source of inspiration and, ‘Sometimes it is a conclusion that a text to the image, like a dot on the i.’
In other words, Tina’s creations are not just carefully refined images where fashion meets art but rather an evolution into a sublime, artistically choreographed performance.