14 August 2015

For his video projects Doug Aitken often engages film stars. One of them is Tilda Swinton.

White dress, pale skin, high cheek bones, no make-up. In Doug Aitken's "SONG1" Tilda Swinton appears elf-like yet simultaneously strong. "SONG1" is a 360-degree film installation, which can be seen in the current Doug Aitken show. Swinton is one of the actresses, who covers the song "I Only Have Eyes For You" in the video. Her interpretation of the 1930s Flamingos' classic sounds celestial, seduces us viewers and whisks us away into another world.

Doug Aitken created the video 2012 for the Hirshhorn Museum in Washington D.C. -- and projected it onto the building's round facade. "SONG1" is not his first work to be presented on a museum facade and not the only one featuring Tilda Swinton. Back in 2007 he cast Swinton for his video installation "Sleepwalkers", which was shown on the facade of the New York MoMa.

In 2012, for his video project “The Source” he conducted an interview with Swinton. In several short films Swinton and other artists such as Beck, William Eggleston and Ryan Trecartin talk about the origins of creativity. “The thing that keeps me being a performer is my interest in society’s obsession with identity. Because I’m not really sure that identity exists,” she tells Doug Aitken. She also says that she actually wanted to become a poet and as a child thought it was impossible to communicate perfectly. She is more interested in stillness and gestures than in language. “It feels to me that art is a conversation,” she says.

For the woman who won an Oscar 2008 for her role in “Michael Clayton”, art is more than acting. She sees herself as a performance artist. She is attracted to worlds where art and film converge. John Byrne, the father of her children, is an author and painter. Her partner Sando Kopp is also an artist. In 1995, Swinton teamed up with artist Cornelia Parker in the performance “The Maybe”, for which she lay down and slept for hours in a glass coffin in the Serpentine Gallery, London. She later repeated the action in Museo Narracco in Rome and in the MoMA, New York. In an interview with “Art” magazine Tilda Swinton said she first got the idea from seeing Lenin’s corpse and all the people who queued up to see a dead person. Moreover, in 1994 she had attended many funerals of friends, so that the work was also in memory of them.

That Tilda Swinton would be at home in the world of art and films was not necessarily foreseeable. Swinton is of noble Anglo-Scottish ancestry, her father was a Major General in the Queen’s Regiment. She grew up in a castle, and like Diana Spencer, the later Lady Di, she attended the exclusive West Heath Girls School. Later she studied Social and Political Science at Cambridge. She was briefly on the stage for the Royal Shakespeare Company, but left the ensemble after just one season to work in the film “Caravaggio” by British independent director Derek Jarman. Swinton appeared in every one of Jarman’s films until he died of HIV/AIDS in 1994. She was his muse, and he helped her develop her gestural acting style.

Even though Tilda Swinton later starred in several Hollywood movies (e.g., “The Beach” and “Vanilla Sky”), she stands above all for anti-mainstream. An intelligent, beautiful and unconventional woman. She is considered to be the style icon of our time, and is engaged by fashion designers such as Karl Lagerfeld (for Chanel), firms like Pringle of Scotland or Pomellato, and as ambassador of the Berlin Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week. David Bowie signed her up for a music video, and she was a long-time friend of Christoph Schlingensief. Why does Tilda Swinton attract so many creative people? As the Director of Hamburg’s Film Festival, Albert Wiederspiel said when he handed Swinton the Douglas-Sirk Prize 2013, the explanation is probably simple: “Where Tilda Swinton is, is art”.