Bert Gilbert is in her Guantanamo suit – it’s all she wears now, everyday. Paint strewn. It’s the base shape for her new Liberation Suits – which open in an art show in Istanbul, aside Jake and Dinos Chapman, almost on the same date as Cold Lips II rolls off the press.
The Liberation Suits came to her in a vision of spiked acid, at an after party for Gavin Turk.
‘I had to go with it – and this is where the script came from, a kind of automatic writing: Liberation from yourself, liberation from scrawling, liberation from crawling…’ She laughs a lot. It’s part of her attractiveness, this humour, knife deep in her artwork which hits beauty through the trauma of existence, be it like this current project, a commentary on the fashion industry, and communication. This collaborative project is called The Sinistry, with Izzet Ers, her good friend who had served as the creative director of the fur designers, Hockley for 15 years prior the company being sold.
‘We were going to call them safety suits, SS suits, like SSClub7, the club I did, but I knew it wasn’t right, so it came up from an acid trip I didn’t want with a new name, so I was like thank you, acid!’
Bert lives in the astral planes at the best of times, you can almost see her female intuition as electric veins of the atmosphere, sparking electric like a plasma ball. Elements of the neo-classical burst in a golden dawn of Sun Ra Aquarian energy in projects which range from ‘Sorceress’, completed at a residential at Bedburg Hau’s sanatorium, binding nature in a course to touch former selves. Other projects, with names like: Alchemy, Baptism by Fire, Rites of Initiation, Symbology, are unified in her psychoanalytic quest for truth, presented with a graphic fashion sense, which is where she began, a textile designer for Alexander McQueen, with commissions and collaborations with brands such as Coco De Mer, and people such as Roisin Murphy, Marilyn Manson, William Orbit and Lana Del Rey.
We first met in London’s Arts Club East, late one night – women meeting women is a delicate process, but there was a strong sense we’d get on. Today we’re in a modern bar, in a modern place where a Nazi security guard tries to tell us the outdoor space is not for smoking in. What is this? 1984? ‘This is still a public place,’ I tell him. We lament rising authoritarianism, submission to it, and the single narrative of: work, taxes, marriage, babies, death. Within a few minutes we have also identified a mutual distaste for the promotion of narcissism in contemporary times, the reflections this creates of women and cultures of communication.
Back at the table, Bert, all bleach blonde, red lips, infectious cosmos, brings out a sketchpad, it’s thick with cut pages, and stapled pieces of fabric samples: ‘A lot of my work is about deconstructing the layers of the unseen and translating them into the real. I’m fascinated by what is under the skin. I have a disillusionment in online communication – is the mortgage and child enough to talk about – ARE YOU HAPPY?’
‘Without getting melancholic, there is an authenticity missing in conversations. I work it through my artwork, or I couldn’t get out of bed. You have to filter through so much to get a connection, where we are supposedly all ‘Namaste!’ – it’s not communicating the root of vulnerability. You all need to open your bum chakra and it’ll be more authentic.’
‘The Liberation suits are the best collaboration I’ve ever done. I’ve lost a lot of my frustrations – it reset me. Sometimes when you meet people it reboots you, and that’s what I wanted these suits to do: to liberate you from your own bullshit, and that that’s near and around you. It’s about double-speak, and encoding, and the layers and the subtext is about what leaks out and what is presented. ‘I bleed between the lines’ is one of the slogans from the manifesto we created.’
‘I write as much as I draw, and I’ve always used slogans and puns, and a lot of people say that devalues your artwork but I love a pun and it translates the concept simply, if you can summarise it, it helps if there’s humour involved, and there’s wisdom in simple texts – you distill it down. So I did all this energetic artwork and he started stitching, a male doing the stitch-work was amazing, because I was bought up a child in the North East, doing cross-stitch – bodice work, so to reverse that, with the colours all alchemical in white, red, and black, all hand-stitched, and it’s taken since September to produce them – and there are seven…’
Flicking through the sketchpad, scribbles towards a manifesto can be viewed through scalpelled strips of stitched blood, sweat and tears.
‘My last project was about protective shamanic suits for ritual sacrifice and religious raves, based on the maenads who were known as the raving ones, Dionysis’ followers. They ran to the woods, high on wine and weed – they sound amazing those girls, maniacs! I had a pineal skin suit, I’ve got a cactus suit: a peyote skin suit. The peyote suit is almost like a totem pole, and it was a tribute to Jodorowsky and as I made it I was obsessed by the hat in Holy Mountain, it looks like a huge cock, and my neighbours, looking out of the window to the garden, were totally confused as to what I was making.’
These catsuits were the beginning her metaphorical costumes, a way of becoming a ‘symbolic, esoteric superhero’, to have a second skin to ride through the subtext of of ever decreasing contemporary conversations. ‘That’s just become very prescient, the idea of leaking and bleeding through – you can see the issues and listen to the subtext – of what someone’s saying.’
‘My mum was a criminologist, interviewing every super-criminal for twenty years, and now she’s gone super-mystical – she wasn’t happy, now she’s a healer, I’m like: Give me the crystal! We’ve lost the rites of passage. Things can’t always be explained.’
‘But the process of creation is energetic and intuitive, and I repeat motifs – so I heavily research constantly, and I notice that my themes almost repeat like Islamic repetition, and the issue of recoding trauma transcends the trauma itself, I think you can meditate through it. There’s a lot of sexual reference, you can fuck something, or make something – and I make things, that sexual energy is very hard to translate, and sex should be sacred, you have to be careful who you fuck. You can swipe it left or right and it disturbs.’ I explain a poem I’ve done, about Vagrant Lovers, and our right to sex having transcended into consumer experience, our sexual rites industrialised to pornographic imagery, distracted from sensual awareness in urban environments where survival comes before love.
‘Our right has been taken away, and the porn script has taken the energy away,’ she agrees. At the root of her work is romanticism, for the raw beauty of our psychic selves. It is heroic and anti-irrational. It is plainspeak, without being obvious. It is alchemical and restores ideas of liberté, égalité, fraternité, as all art does…
‘Between the Lines’, an interview with Bert Gilbert published exclusively in Cold Lips II. To read the full article, you can purchase a full copy in select shops or in our online store.