Not Exactly a Festival, More Than an Exhibition...
The World´s Largest Performance Design Event
Costume, Stage, Sound, Lighting Design and Architecture from over 70 Countries
Site-Specific Projects, Workshops, Discussions, and Lectures
Exhibitions, Performances and Installations All Over Prague
One of the 2011 must-see events for art professionals and cultural fans!


Hot News

PQ E-Scenography PQ Logo


23. 5. 2011, 15:00

Visitors to the Prague Quadrennial will find several PQ projects at the Veletržní Palace, including “Extreme Costume”. This section will consist of an exhibition of costumes, video recordings and photographs, as well as a series of presentations and discussions. Both the exhibition and the presentations are curated by leading Czech costume designer Simona Rybáková. In an interview, she shares the project’s main objectives.

What can we expect to find in the Prague Quadrennial’s Extreme Costume section, and what is its purpose?
Extreme Costume is an exhibition dedicated purely to costumes for theatre and live events. What makes it unique is that it acts as a kind of antithesis to the items that will be exhibited in the national expositions. The section will present a broad range of creations by costume designers from around the world, with different countries and cultures being at different levels in the transition from classic theatre costumes to today’s extreme formats. By asking the curators of the national expositions to select the most extreme contemporary costumes for all forms of live events, we hope to capture the broadest range of tendencies reflecting what costume is capable of today.

Does the word “extreme” in the section’s title refer to extreme looks, the materials used, the extreme manner in which the costumes are used, or all of the above?
All that and much more. We are interested in extreme looks in the sense of form and visual design, which is influenced by the choice of material, whose specific characteristics turn the costume into an actor within the play. Also extreme is the use of certain symbols and colours, sometimes with strong political subtexts. The environment in which the costume is performed and of which it becomes a part. New technologies and new materials whose characteristics inspire and speak, for instance textiles that dissolve on the dancer’s body during the performance. In fact, just by placing these diverse costumes into one installation, we create extreme relationships.

What is the role of costume in contemporary theatre?
That is quite a personal question for me, and I will try to approach it from both sides. Costume has been and continues to be an important component of the events on stage, and it is an inseparable part of theatre. As a costume designer, I have strong and hardly objective opinions regarding its importance. Next to the actor’s expressive talent and body language, it is a primary source of information about the nature of the character, his or her social status, emotional state, and so on. Colour, material, cut, and mask play an important role in the viewer’s identification with the character. I consider this all to be clear and automatic, but this isn’t always so. Many directors lack imagination, do not have a sufficient level of artistic education, and do not challenge or inspire the designer. Out of laziness or lack of knowledge, they give up in advance. Of course, if costumes are to play an active role in a performance, the actors and director should have the opportunity to rehearse in them, so that the possibilities offered by the costumes may be shaped as an integral part of the performance. If the costumes are not used until the final rehearsals, they really can get in the way. But if there is a willingness to work together as a team, then we can come up with a lot of things in advance that will ensure that everything will function as a whole. The result may be exponentially better. I can’t help but comment on the fact that posters often show only the name of the director and author, but not any of the other creative professions….

Do costumes need actors more than actors need costumes, or the other way around?
The two should be in harmony. Costumes can help actors but can also harm them. The actor fills a costume and brings it to life. But here we are talking about the traditional way of seeing theatre costume. Designers can just as well create costumes without a specific libretto. One example are fashion shows, where the designer works with a specific theme and form, and the costume isn’t designed for a specific body (actor). Some costume designers create costumes as part of their free creative work, designing objects within the artistic context of their imagination, and only later might these be used within a specific performance, if the designer manages to inspire the director.

Can costumes play/exist independently, outside the context of the theatre play or performance for which they were created? Can they be independent works of art?
Some costumes yes, others no. This is one problem that we address in our exhibition. We tear the costumes out of their original context and freeze them in time in order to offer viewers a close-up look, in order to capture how the costume was created and from what, and to record its inner story. For instance, I decorated one costume for a large opera production with steel wool, which is impossible to see in a large theatre, but is quite fun when seen up-close…. Our exhibition allows viewers to see such approaches and ideas at a leisurely pace. Some of the exhibited costumes are like works of conceptual art, meaning that they are capable of existing independently. Still, in order for viewers to grasp their essential nature, we exhibit some costumes as actual objects on mannequins, while others are shown through photographs or videos.

In this sense, is it possible to exhibit costumes independently?
As I have already said, it is possible, but only for some. What is more, we must bear in mind that we are exhibiting these works with an emphasis on their artistic and conceptual characteristics. Not all costumes that play well on actors are capable of being exhibited, precisely because body and expressions form an integral part of these costumes. It is necessary to find a suitable form of presentation for each individual costume. By comparison, costumes by designers such as Robert Wilson or Rien Becckers are easily exhibited because they are visually so unique and artistic that the actor is no more than a kind of marionette with a stylised mask, and no specific body is even necessary.

To what extent can theatre costumes be used in other, non-artistic areas of life? Where does theatre costume find most of its inspiration today?
Costumes for theatre and live events are in and of themselves a specific form of clothing, meaning that they cannot be moved outside of this environment. They are created for a specific person, situation and time. Of course, they also offer the viewer information, inspiration and emotions, and can penetrate freely into his life. Designers who create costumes for live events are inspired by absolutely everything. Mutual influences among artistic disciplines and phenomena of everyday life are combined freely and liberally. Creative costume designers find inspiration in history, fashion, music, nature, social and political aspects of society, works by their colleagues, all styles and cultures in general – simply everything that might help them to express the desired result.

Interview was conducted by Markéta Horešovská, editor ČTK