Aloof Periwigs | Constance Tenvik

An exhibition exploring Mozart.

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Aloof Periwigs Exhibtion

In 2020, artist and designer Constance Tenvik was approached by a theater in Norway with an inquiry to design the set and costumes for a production of Amadeus, the play by Peter Shaffer, which is a fictional history of the lives of rival composers Mozart and Salieri. After countless hours of research, obsession, and dedication to uncover the truths of Mozart’s life, Tenvik did not get the job.

In lieu of the artist's disappointment, she created art of several mediums (paintings, fabrics, installations, sculptures) into an exhibition, Aloof Periwigs, which is being shown at Anat Ebgi Gallery in Los Angeles from Nov.12-Dec.17. Tenvik brings a fresh perspective to the Baroque culture in which Mozart lived, applying her knowledge of his life and exploring our mischaracterizations of him and in celebrity in general. Aloof Periwigs consists of clothing designs and welded steel sculptures that look similar to props and mannequins. She’s built a “fan girl bedroom” which is parallel to her “fangirling” over Mozart, bringing modern ideas of creation and fame to a classical icon. Her paintings blur the lines between real life subjects, art, and performance, by painting her friends in portraits that embellish the plays narrative.

Tenvik says that this exhibition is the fourth in a series, in which she reinvents moments from the past with a modern perspective: a one woman show of Tristan and Isolde, a reenactment of the Eglinton Tournament of 1839, her personal approach to A Journey Around My Room by Xavier de Maistre, and most recently, Aloof Periwigs.

Constance speaks with Flaunt about her journey with the life of Mozart, the realities of his life, and her artistic approach.

Can you tell me a bit about this exhibition in your own words? Tell me about your connection to the work and what it means to you.

I was asked by a theater in Norway to do all the costumes for Amadeus- I was excited to work directly with the theater rather than making art reflecting theatrical interests. My core questions have a lot to do with the human condition and what it's like to be human-different relationships and the drama of life. I was excited to work with a team of skilled workers. I do love to produce fabrics and costumes and sometimes clothes. It's been more of a side thing, but I thought to really try to do that would be very exciting. I thereby started reading about Mozart's life and got excited. Then I found a way to get to Vienna, where I spent three months at the former bread factory, Charim factory, and shared a studio with painter Eva Beresin. Well into my Austrian chapter I got to know I didn’t get the costume gig, but I got so enthralled with Mozart that I decided to make an exhibition instead, to take the Amadeus bonanza to LA.

Why did you decide to create something instead of just doing away with all the research and interest you had in it?

During my time in Vienna, I got a little bit of a feeling of Mozart's surroundings. I saw his two graves, a few concert halls, had some traditional dishes and went to Salzburg with a private teacher, amongst other things. Once I got into the research, I thought it was much more interesting to look into Mozart's actual life than the script because the script is a lot about genius versus mediocrity and a lot about the tragic, later part of Mozart's life, and this fictional conflict with Salieri. To me I don't think you would even need to create any more drama than what was already existing in Mozart's life. Although the sculptures in the space refer to the play. And the script could provide some structure in terms of figuring out locations for scenes in some paintings and titles, what took over was the letters. I found a lot of joy in reading Mozart’s letters, a lot of them between him and his father (A Life in Letters). The Mozart sculpture in the show has a dad sculpture (Leopold) hovering over Mozart.  Although Mozart wouldn't exist without his dad who tutored him from a really young age and pushed him, this would also create some child star problems like loss of childhood, who gets the money and who gets to take pride in the success. It felt like Mozart was always indebted, either financially or emotionally, so I made a Debt pattern in the lining of the coat of the Mozart sculpture.

Amadé (W.A. Mozart) 2022

How'd you get that idea to take somebody who's normally so classical and bring in a fun and colorful perspective?

Mozart was certainly fun and colorful. He did a lot of things in new ways. He was interested in, for example, the Boudoir as a location for the opera. He wanted real life to enter the opera, and for it not only to be about heroes and old stories from the past. His music is as alive today as it was before, and it can spark a range of emotions. Even in the early stages of making the show I wanted to make a Mozart fan girl  bedroom with mind maps and custom sheets, etc. There is certainly a merging of my world and the world of Mozart that I have been discovering. In a lot of the paintings I’ve been staging different people in LA, with details like a Mozart chocolate box, shot glasses with his face or napkins with the score of Figaro’s wedding. Had I gotten the job at the theater I would have been very constrained to representing a period that everyone knows very well. The Baroque and the Rococo are very well known. I wouldn’t want to just toss out the usual powdered wigs. Even if some have been really marvelous at entering this world of powdered wigs, like Sophia Coppola, how she did Maria Antoinette. But even with that, all of the music and the way it's filmed, it's taking you to a different place. I think that's where it gets fun too. To imagine what these lives were. The biggest wig in my exhibition is custom from scratch, but inspired by the eighties punk era of long canceled Gloria of Thurn und Taxis. Inspired just by the hair not the person. Decadent in a loose way.

Mozart Fangirl Room

So the creative process… do these ideas come all at once or do you figure out what you want to create as you go? And you incorporated your friends- was that a more personal way of creating?

All of the paintings are done here in LA and I didn't know that many people here. But, people like my studio neighbors, some friends of friends, some new friends, some old friends have come to the studio to sit for my paintings. The process for that has been playing, dressing up, painting live, it's an exciting process because you can't control everything. Some refer more to the Mozart world than others. One of the paintings has elements of a script on the floor and my two studio mates are playing cat and mouse the way that Mozart and Constanze are playing cat and mouse in the play. A sort of doubling. The paintings of groupings of people are characters from my imagination making up scenes from sites like The Waldstadten Library and the Schönbrunn Palace.

Jonny at Bonno's Salon, 2022

You mentioned earlier that you're really excited by the human condition. This exhibition is kind of a reflection of our relation to celebrity and gossip and excess. Would you mind talking a little bit more about that- are there any specific examples that you pulled from or were inspired by?

To be so much in the warmth of everyone and to be a legend at such a young age. And then suddenly for that to be taken away, at 17. Mozart was supposed to be done. It must have taken a lot of strength for him to keep going. There's something kind of cruel about how an audience can go so much from hot to cold, and to almost be as excited for the downfall of someone as their rise to stardom. In LA with Hollywood so close by, there's definitely a sense that you can always be replaced. Mozart was an early freelance artist with a lot of mouths to feed and costs to deal with in order to keep going artistically. Many think he died of overworking, which again comes from an unsustainable way of working.Traditionally speaking, the role of the musician hasn't had any status until quite late in history. Reading about Mozart made me wonder; what are the conditions for making work? You can be a genius, you can be full of ideas and inspiration, but where is that channeled? And how is it managed and supported? He must have been torn wanting to create, being overloaded with bills to pay, lots of people to take care of, and maybe the moment he wished to write opera he had to work for the church or teach young girls piano lessons. At the time, even if you wrote a whole opera, you wouldn't be paid unless it would go on stage. It must've been exhausting.

This fangirl bedroom makes me think of Britney Spears, and comparing her to Mozart with their similar child stardom and how indebted they are to the people around them.

I mean, definitely Britney Spears is someone I've thought about, especially with the debt aspect of things. And who's taking charge of the finances? Who feels entitled for the success? There are so many tragic examples.

Polonaises at the Schönbrunn Palace, 2022

Did you feel any kind of personal connection to Mozart when you were reading his personal letters? Or were you more just enamored by the idea of the difference between who he was and who we remember him to be?

With Mozart it is hard to differentiate between the man and the myth, which is probably the case with a lot of the artists I look up to. Mozart’s wife Constanze made up a lot of stories about Mozart after his death to keep him and his legacy popular. When he was alive I’m sure he himself also had his way of supporting the persona that he had created. Mozart is a little bit different than a lot of the Classical music icons because you can really feel a range of emotions when you listen to the music. It can be ecstatic, fun, exhilarating and on the other hand the requiem will make you cry, feel anger, power, loss. I think it's really incredible that these emotions can be felt so strongly long after his death. I also think that he probably had a rather different personality than a lot of others. Although the conflict between Mozart and Salieri wasn’t true there’s a truth to the conflict Peter Shaffer is depicting in his play. There must’ve been a real conflict between Mozart’s way of thinking, being and making and how the establishment was operating. Back to the question of the personal connection……. The first classical music I listened to was Mozart’s requiem, a ghost writing commission… I would listen to an audio book about his life as a kid and tried playing Rondo Alla Turca on the piano. Mozart has been with me, so maybe the reason why I wanted to go through with pretending to have a job that I don't have was also a bit because it is an exciting life to read about. I think also in the letters, you can read about stuff like the Vox Hall Gardens in England, and there are certain interactions and different notions of public life at that time which is just interesting to imagine. Although the best way to get to know Mozart is probably by listening to his music. A lot of the titles in the exhibition have a parenthesis with a K and a number referring to a music piece that one can search up and listen to. (K466) etc. There is no seduction without big listening ears!

Lastly, do you have a favorite, unknown fact about Mozart that you've learned in your research about him?

He had pox from age 11, and was scarred for life. We see a lot of beautifying representations of him. I don’t necissarily blame the producers of Mozart kugeln not to dot down his face, but he might not have looked as much of a baby face in real life as in the Amadeus film. I’m interested in how he died so young also, at 35. He probably worked himself to death, which is why, again, I'm interested in the working conditions. Now too, a lot of creatives are in a precarious place, caught in systems where there isn't really a plan to support you, at least not for a longer period of time. If you're an artist like that, you want to work for life, you want to keep going, and some people are tossed out. I think he was just stretched in so many directions. It must have been a tougher life at the time too. He and his wife lost a lot of children and there was illness and misery. It must have been very intense. Peter Shaffer was interested in the gap between his brilliant music and the childish jokes in his letters. Mozart was a fan of scatological humour.

Rococo Peep Show, 2022
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