Poetic Seduction

Vespertine (2011)

 
 

Björk‘s artistic incarnations seem very intentional, well thought out. Vespertine, her fifth studio album was released on August 27, 2001. The initial title for the album was Domestika. A song titled Domestica (originally titled Lost Keys) was included as a B-side on the Pagan Poetry single. Björk has stated that she decided to call the album Vespertine instead of Domestika because the new title dealt with the prayer aspect of the album, which she wanted to note, while she felt that calling the album Domestika would have been “too much”, because Björk felt that the songs on the album were already “domestic” enough. She felt the need to call the album after another aspect of itself. The word Vespertine also relates to nighttime, for example things that come out at night, and the title was also partly inspired by that.

Although one of Vespertine’s themes is the night time, the frontal artwork designed by studio M/M Paris and photographed by Inez van Lamsweerde & Vinoodh Matadin highlights a sunny time. It might be because the song, Sun in my Mouth, was a single from that album. Björk adapted the lyrics of Sun in My Mouth from the poem I Will Wade Out by E. E. Cummings. The word “sea-girls” is changed to “seagulls”, and the last few lines of the poem are omitted.

The recipe for success was ready to be mixed: ornithology, poetry and Greek mythology. Björk used metaphors taken from nature to describe Vespertine: “is little insects rising from the ashes.”

The ancient Greeks thought that ποίησις (poiesis), with a broad meaning of a “making”, was also the “joint of everything”, the amalgamating element of the world. So, maybe that was the ideal concept for Björk.

On the cover of Vespertine she can be seen wearing the swan dress designed by Marjan Pejoski that caused a stir at the 2001 Academy Awards.

Марјан Пејоски (Маrjan Pejoski) is a Macedonian fashion designer who lives and works in Great Britain. That infamous swan dress put him on fashion’s map. Some people thought Alexander McQueen was the author of that dress due to his previous collaborations with Björk.

 
 

Promotional pictures by Inez van Lamsweerde and Vinoodh Matadin

 
 

Björk in Oscar 2001 red carpet

 
 

Still from Pagan Poetry (Nick Knight, 2001) music video. She’s wearing a dress designed by Alexander McQueen. The music video “is about a woman preparing herself for marriage and for her lover”, Knight said.

 
 

Clifton Webb, Marlene Dietrich and Elizabeth Allen

 
 

Morocco (Josef von Sternberg, 1930) Promotional pictures

 
 

Pejoski’s swan dress has a precedent. In 1935 Marlene Dietrich attended a Halloween party hosted by South African actor Basil Rathbone and his wife Ouida Bergère. It was a party to entertain movie stars. The Person You Admire The Most was the theme. Dietrich chose Leda, the mytological figure seduced by Zeus, and asked Travis Banton, a Paramount iconic costume designer, to make her dress. Elizabeth Allen was going to accompany Dietrich. Allen’s choice was out of her reach. She wore an androgynous outfit, actually a copycat from Morocco’s costumes. And Clifton Webb was disguised as Fu Manchú.

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The White Duck Beneath the Waves

The White Duck illustrated by Ivan Bilibin

 
 

The Russian folktale Белая уточка (The White Duck) also bears some resemblance to the story of Лебединое озеро (Swan Lake) ballet, and may have been another possible source. The contemporaries of Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky recalled the composer taking great interest in the life story of Bavarian King Ludwig II, whose tragic life had supposedly been marked by the sign of Swan and who—either consciously or not—was chosen as the prototype of the dreamer Prince Siegfried.

 
 

Audrey Hepburn received a Tony Award for her theatrical performance in the 1954 Broadway play Ondine, directed by Alfred Lunt

 
 

The original Swan Lake was based on the story of Ondine, a German myth with a theme common in Romanticism that was adapted by Hans Christian Andersen for his story The Little Mermaid.

In that German tale known as Sleep of Ondine, Ondine (from Latin: Unda, “a wave”)  is a water nymph. She was very beautiful and, like all nymphs, immortal. However, should she fall in love with a mortal man and bear his child, she would lose her immortality.

 
 

Undine beneath the waves of the Danube. Illustration by Arthur Rackham

 
 

Ondine eventually falls in love with a handsome knight, Sir Lawrence, and they are married. When they exchange vows, Lawrence vows to forever love and be faithful to her. A year after their marriage, Ondine gives birth to his child. From that moment on she begins to age. As Ondine’s physical attractiveness diminishes, Lawrence loses interest in his wife.

One afternoon, Ondine is walking near the stables when she hears the familiar snoring of her husband. When she enters the stable, she sees Lawrence lying in the arms of another woman. Ondine points her finger at him, which he feels as if kicked, waking him up with surprise. Ondine curses him, stating, “You swore faithfulness to me with every waking breath, and I accepted your oath. So be it. As long as you are awake, you shall have your breath, but should you ever fall asleep, then that breath will be taken from you and you will die!

In Marcel Proust’s Remembrance of Past Things, Volume II: Madame Swann at Home, the narrator’s girlfriend Gilberte is referred to as Undine: “… she assumed that vague air, full of reticence and kept secrets…like the Undine that she was…”

And Genesis’ 1973 song Firth of Fifth (from the album Selling England by the Pound) makes reference to Ondinal Songs.

McQueen and the Dancer

Flights of Fancy. Caroline Trentini wearing Alexander McQueen outfits from 2008 Fall/Winter collection. Photo: Arthur Elgort

 
 

 
 

Billy Elliot‘s (Stephen Daldry, 2000) original title was Dancer, but when they took the film to the Cannes Film Festival, there was another film called Dancer in the Dark (Lars von Trier, 2000), which won the Palmes D’Or, prompting confusion; indeed, Universal Studios called the directors, producers and writer up and congratulated them. They then realized they had to change the name and settled (‘rather lamely’, joked the writer) on ‘Billy Elliot‘.

 

“Younger Billy (Jamie Bell) and Mrs. Wilkinson (Julie Walters) are crossing a river. Billy plays a tape and they listen to the finale of Tchaikovski’s Swan Lake. This music has a yearning quality that suits Billy’s quest to move into the world. A policeman sits behind them as Mrs. Wilkinson tells the story of Swan Lake. The policeman is a reminder that the wide-spread concern of Billy’s community is still in the background and has yet to actively impact his move into a new world. The story of Swan Lake is a tale of the less powerful person being subject to stronger forces. The “heroes” of Swan Lake do manage to escape the forces that strive to overpower them, which suggests that Billy will do the same. The music reaches a crescendo as Billy looks up to the powerful frame overhead.”

 

The final scene of the film Billy Elliot shows the lead character, Billy, played by Adam Cooper, as an adult about to perform in Matthew Bourne’s Swan Lake as the lead Swan.

 
 

Matthew Bourne’s Swan Ballet (1995). The plot of the ballet revolves around a young crown prince, his distant mother, and his desire for freedom, characterized by a beautiful swan. This scenario is an unofficial interpretation as Matthew Bourne does not believe in scenarios for his productions and prefers the audience to interpret the story for themselves.The ballet is based loosely on the Russian romantic ballet Swan Lake, from which it takes the music by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky is taken along with the broad outline of the plot. Stylistic inspiration also came from the Alfred Hitchcock film The Birds. The ballet is particularly known for having the parts of the swans danced by men rather than women. According to Bourne, “The idea of a male swan makes complete sense to me. The strength, the beauty, the enormous wingspan of these creatures suggests to the musculature of a male dancer more readily than a ballerina in her white tutu.”

The Proustian Moments of Yves Saint Laurent

Proust ball gown by Yves Saint Laurent, 1971. It once belonged to Jane Birkin.

 
 

Yves Saint Laurent was a great admirer of Marcel Proust, who had been a frequent guest of Gaston Gallimard, one of the previous owners of Château Gabriel, the villa that Yves and Pierre Bergé bought. The designer and his long-time partner commissioned Jacques Grange to decorate it with themes inspired by Proust’s Remembrance of Things Past. And it’s been said that Saint Laurent used to register in the hotels using the nickname Monsieur Swann, so as not to be disturbed or recognized.

 
 

À la recherche du temps perdu (In Search of Lost Time or Remembrance of Things Past) is known both for its length and its theme of involuntary memory. The novel began to take shape in 1909. Proust continued to work on it until his final illness in the autumn of 1922 forced him to break off. He established the structure early on, but even after volumes were initially finished he kept adding new material, and edited one volume after another for publication.

 

Volume 1: Du côté de chez Swann (1913) was rejected by a number of publishers, including Fasquelle, Ollendorf, and the Nouvelle Revue Française (NRF). André Gide was famously given the manuscript to read to advise NRF on publication, and leafing through the seemingly endless collection of memories and philosophizing or melancholic episodes, came across a few minor syntactic errors, which made him decide to turn the work down in his audit. Proust eventually arranged with the publisher Grasset to pay the cost of publication himself. When published it was advertised as the first of a three-volume novel.

 

A third-person novella within Du côté de chez Swann, “Un Amour de Swann” is sometimes published as a volume by itself. As it forms the self-contained story of Charles Swann’s love affair with Odette de Crécy and is relatively short, it is generally considered a good introduction to the work and is often a set text in French schools. “Combray I” is also similarly excerpted; it ends with the famous madeleine cake episode, introducing the theme of involuntary memory.

 
 

 
 

Yves Saint Laurent’s Proust Questionnaire
He answered it in 1968 during an interview

 
 

What is your main character trait?
Determination.

What is your greatest drawback?
Shyness.

What is your favorite quality in a man?
Indulgence.

What is your favorite quality in a woman?
Same thing.

What is your favorite historical character?
Mademoiselle Chanel.

Who are your real life heroes?
The people I admire.

Who would you like to have been?
A Beatnik.

What is your ideal of earthly bliss?
Sleeping with the people I love.

What is the lowest depth of misery?
Loneliness.

Where would you like to live?
In sunny climates, by the sea.

What talent would you like to have?
Physical strength.

What fault are you most tolerant of?
Betrayal.

Who is your favorite painter?
Picasso.

Your favorite musician?
Bach. And nineteenth century composers of opera.

Your favorite writers, apart from Proust?
I love Proust so much that it’s hard for me to share him with other authors. But I adore [Louis-Ferdinand] Céline and also [Louis] Aragon.

What is your favorite color?
Black.

What do you hate most of all?
The snobbery of wealth.

Do you have a motto?
I’ll borrow the motto of the Noailles family: “More Honor” – in the singular rather than “honors” in the plural.

Swan’s Way

Blazon

For the Countess of Peralta

 
 

The snow-white Olympic swan,
with beak of rose-red agate,
preens his Eucharistic wing,
which he opens to the sun like a fan.

 

His shining neck is curved
like the arm of a lyre,
like the handle of a Greek amphora,
like the prow of a ship.

 

He is the swan of divine origin
whose kiss mounted through fields
of silk to the rosy peaks
of Leda’s sweet hills.

 

White king of of Castalia’s fount,
his triumph illumines the Danube;
Da Vinci was his baron in Italy;
Lohengrin is his blond prince.

 

His whiteness is akin to linen,
to the buds of the white roses,
to the diamantine white
of the fleece of an Easter lamb.

 

He is the poet of perfect verses,
and his lyric cloak is of ermine;
he is the magic, the regal bird
who, dying, rhymes the soul in his song.

 

This winged aristocrat displays
white lilies on a blue field;
and Pompadour, gracious and lovely,
has stroked his feathers.

 

He rows and rows on the lake
Where a golden gondola waits
For the sweetheart of Louis of Bavaria.

 

Countess, give the swans your love,
for they are gods of an alluring land
and are made of perfume and ermine,
of white light, of silk, and of dreams.

Ruben Darío

 
 

Photo: Bruce Weber

 
 

Carmen Dell’Orefice by Norman Parkinson, 1980

 
 

Swaroski logo

 
 

Bathyllus in the swan dance, Aubrey Beardsley

 
 

Henri Matisse making a study of a swan in the Bois de Boulogne, c. 1930

 
 

Advertisement illustrated by René Gruau

 
 

Illustration to Garcia Márquez’s short story Bon Voyage Mr. President, by Josie Portillo

 
 

Still from The Black Swan (Darren Aronofsky, 2010)

 
 

Anna Pavlova

 
 

Still from The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn – Part 1 (Bill Condon, 2011)

 
 

Helena Bonham Carter

 
 

Laetita Casta. Photo: Mario Testino

 
 

Uma Thurman and Mikahil Baryshnikov as The Swan Prince. Photo: Arthur Elgort

 
 

Truman Capote styled his beautiful and wealthy female friends “swans”

 
 

Accompained by Lee Radziwill and Jane Haward

 
 

With socialité Babe Paley in Paris

 
 

Escorting CZ Guest

 
 

Capote and Gloria Vanderbilt Lumet arrive at New York’s 54th Street Theatre for the opening performance of Caligula., 16 Feb 1960

 
 

Gloria Vanderbilt ad campaigns

 
 

Ludwig II (Luchino Visconti, 1972). He was sometimes called the Swan King

 
 

Mirror, Mirror (Tarsem Singh, 2012)

 
 

Robert Redford and Mia Farrow in The Great Gatsby (Jack Clayton, 1974)

 
 

Leonardo di Caprio. Photo: Annie Leibovitz

 
 

Madonna. Photo: David LaChapelle

 
 

David Bowie

 
 

Ad campaign featured in Vogue, January 1997

 
 

Tory Burch swan-print wedge sandalias

 
 

Swan Evening dress by Charles James, 1951

 
 

Kate Moss wearing a Givenchy gown by Ricardo Tisci, Spring-Summer collection 2011

 
 

Giles Deacon Spring-Summer 2012 collection

 
 

Erin O’Connor wearing a gown by Alexander McQueen. Photo: Tim Walker

 
 

Eglingham Children and Swan on Beach, Tim Walker, 2002

Leda and the Swan

Leda and the Swan is a story and subject in art from Greek mythology in which the god Zeus, in the form of a swan, seduces, or rapes, Leda. According to later Greek mythology, Leda bore Helen and Polydeuces, children of Zeus, while at the same time bearing Castor and Clytemnestra, children of her husband Tyndareus, the King of Sparta. In the W.B. Yeats version, it is subtly suggested that Clytemnestra, although being the daughter of Tyndareus, has somehow been traumatized by what the swan has done to her mother. According to many versions of the story, Zeus took the form of a swan and raped or seduced Leda on the same night she slept with her husband King Tyndareus. In some versions, she laid two eggs from which the children hatched.In other versions, Helen is a daughter of Nemesis, the goddess who personified the disaster that awaited those suffering from the pride of Hubris.

 
 

Greco-roman mosaic

 
 

Giovanni Battista

 
 

(atributed to) Leonardo da Vinci

 
 

Raphael

 
 

Virgil Solis

 
 

Cesare da Sesto

 
 

Michelangelo Buonarroti

 
 

Ridolfo Ghirlandaio

 
 

Paolo Veronese

 
 

Peter Paul Rubens

 
 

François-Edouard Picot

 
 

Théodore Géricault

 
 

Giovanni Boldini

 
 

Paul Cézanne

 
 

Gustav Klimt

 
 

Henri Matisse

 
 

Cy Twombly

 
 

Jerzy Hulewicz

 
 

François Boucher

 
 

Gustave Moreau

 
 

Salvador Dalí

 
 

Jacopo Robusti (Tintoretto)

 
 

Arturo Michelena

 
 

Fernando Botero

 
 

Constantin Brâncuși

 
 

Frederic Leighton

 
 

Warwick Globe

 
 

Louis Icart

 
 

Sam Taylor Wood

 
 

Helmut Newton

 
 

Joel Peter Witkin

 
 

Kate Moss photographed by Steve Klein

 
 

Derrick Santini

Strange Heart Beating Where It Lies

Photo: Tim Walker

 
 

A sudden blow: the great wings beating still
Above the staggering girl, her thighs caressed
By the dark webs, her nape caught in his bill,
He holds her helpless breast upon his breast.

How can those terrified vague fingers push
The feathered glory from her loosening thighs?
And how can body, laid in that white rush,
But feel the strange heart beating where it lies?

A shudder in the loins engenders there
The broken wall, the burning roof and tower
And Agamemnon dead.

Being so caught up,

So mastered by the brute blood of the air,
Did she put on his knowledge with his power
Before the indifferent beak could let her drop?

Leda and the Swan

William Butler Yeats

 
 

W.B. Yeats seems to be ridden by the desire to smooth away every difference between the swan and Leda. The metamorphosis of the loving couple into a couple of birds is an old dream of W.B. Yeats’. Does he not sing in ‘The white birds’:

‘For I would we were changed to white birds on the wandering foam: I and you!’

With W.B. Yeats, the smoothing away of the difference between man and animal seems to encompass the smoothing away of the difference between man and woman. An obvious solution is their metamorphosis into a swan. It is rather impossible to tell a male swan from a female: both share a virginal front. And that sheds a new light on the fact that it is Zeus that presses Leda’s breast against his: ‘he holds her helpless breast upon his breast’. On the Hellenistic relief Zeus does not press Leda’s breast against his breast but Leda’s face.

What Lies Beneath

 
 

 
 

Photos: Mert Alas & Marcus Piggott.

Client: Love magazine, issue #6. Fall/Winter 2011

Fashion Editor/Stylist: Katie Grand

Set Designer: Gerard Santos

Make-up Artist: Lucia Pieroni

Models: Maria Carla Boscono, Saskia de Braw, Kristen McMenamy, Anais Pouliot, Guinevere Seenus, Paul Boche, Xiao Wen Ju, Jed Texas and Angus Whitehead.

 

 

 

Declaring Independence

 
 

On April 19th, 1810, in order to establish a new nation, based on the premises of equality of individuals, abolition of censorship and dedication to freedom of expression, a national movement was born to achieve the independence of Venezuela from the Spanish Crown. Björk has used live performances of Declare Independence to express political support for various causes, often to some controversy and I am confident that she would be delighted to lend her support to the people who are faced with the tough political situation Venezuela is getting through right now.
 
Declare Independence is the third single from her sixth full-length studio album, Volta. The song was originally an instrumental track by British musician and frequent musical collaborator Mark Bell, performed at his live shows as early as November, 2006. Björk later added her vocals on top. The lyrics are dedicated to the Faroe Islands and Greenland, islands currently ruled by Denmark, as Björk’s home country of Iceland had been.
 
The military-themed performance video was directed by French director Michel Gondry. It is his seventh video with Björk, and the first since 1997′s Bachelorette. In a press conference on March 22, 2007, Gondry stated that he would be shooting a video with Björk for an upcoming single, and though he did not specifically state which song it would be for, described his treatment as being for a “punk” song.

 
 

 
 

Army of Me was released as the lead single from her second solo album Post (1995). The song partially samples the drum line of When the Levee Breaks by the Led Zeppelin.
 
The singer said that she wanted to capture that “tanker-truck” feeling, the sense of a big machine grinding unstoppably through town and further stated: “I thought I should be driving a very, very big truck to try to wake this person who’s asleep, so I get the biggest truck in the world, and I’m so mad I’ve got metallic teeth, because when you’re really angry, you grind your teeth. So I have to go to the dentist, who tries to steal away from me a diamond I don’t know I have”.
 
When Michel [Gondry] gets his strokes of genius and, in the video for Army of Me, wants a dentist who’s a gorilla to find a diamond in my mouth, some people call it nonsense. But it’s probably the most realistic way of expressing what situation I’m in – all these people trying to take things away from me, and the gorilla finding a diamond that I don’t know I have and then stealing it. Army of Me is so much about me actually learning that I have to defend myself. I have to stand up and fight the fucking gorilla. Once I’ve got the diamond and I run away with it, it becomes massive ‘cos it’s mine. But if the gorilla had kept it, it would have gone really tiny. That’s surrealism for me

Swan Swan H

“Swan, swan, hummingbird
Hurrah, we’re all free now
What noisy cats are we
Girl and dog he bore his cross…”

 
 

A R.E.M. song from Lifes Rich Pageant (1986) with a mysterious source (some has said it’s about the Civil War) and a cryptic message in the lyrics.