They’ve invented their own sex, sport matching shaved heads and make-up, and ummm … they come from the future. No, this isn’t ComicCon. It’s art!
It’s likely that if you’ve attended any of the major art fairs, biennales and art exhibitions in the last two decades, you’ve probably spotted the identically made-up, gender-bending, frock-wearing Austro-German couple known as EVA & ADELE (ampersand and capitals are imperative) stealing the show. They’re pretty hard to miss. This year, I bumped into and chatted with the couple at the Venice Biennale preview. Dressed in gold sequins with matching parasols, they sparkled like a couple of drag Busby Berkeley showgirls against a background of black-clad vatican priests in what looked like a staged performance (it wasn’t, which made the scene all the more surreal and confusing).
Theirs isn’t an attempt to merely gain celebrity for the most outré outfits in the art world. It’s not just for art events that this couple dress up; their appearance is a 24-hour commitment, a performance in public and private that is thought-out and coordinated every morning upon waking for the last two decades. They eat the same food, dress identically every single day in outfits of their own design (always including a pair of heels), and have never spent a day apart in their 22 years together. ADELE, the smaller and chattier of the two, explains, “It is a lifelong performance and we think it’s one of the most radical works in contemporary art to have made a decision 22 years ago to be a life-long performance. We do this 24 hours a day; it’s ongoing. It’s the biennale, at the vaporetto, at the coffee houses … everywhere.” They are the very embodiment of the term, Lebenskunstwerk, a living work of art.
Visually they have created an outward appearance that is neither male nor female, and of indeterminate age. Although adorned with the trappings of femininity — dresses, high heels, stockings, make-up — hair, that powerful symbol of femininity, has been shaved off, and EVA’s stature, wider and towering over ADELE, lends itself more to transvestism than femininity. Their bodies have become the canvas upon which gender and sexual politics is explored, and also a symbol of the possibility of a constructed self-determined identity beyond social and cultural norms. EVA, who identifies as female despite being born male and still retaining a male body, took their commitment to redefining and inventing their own gender a step further a couple of years ago when she underwent an arduous legal process to change the sex stated on her birth certificate to reflect the female one she identified with. In 2011 the two then married as women, although in previous interviews they have claimed that they are neither male nor female and live beyond the boundaries of gender. “We didn’t want to be a man or a woman”, says ADELE. “We wanted to go beyond the boundaries of gender and open up this space between male and female. We thought we should professionalize this as our work. So, our appearance is a symbol of this big space and we want to use it more playfully, not with a European Christian relationship and all the suffering and all that.”
The Berlin-based couple coined the term ‘Futuring’ to describe their body of work and performance. Claiming that they have come from the future in time machines, they landed in 1989 Berlin before the wall was torn down and brought with them a model of future possibilities of identity and lifestyle, where boundaries and inflexible social conventions and categories are overcome. “Futuring is something we did together parallel to the art”, says ADELE. “It is in the tradition of Dada, Merz or Fluxus. We were thinking we needed another word, a new word in addition to art, and that’s Futuring.” You too can be a Futurist they claim, although exactly what that involves, I’m still not clear about. “Everybody can think or act ‘Futuring’. We are the inventors, the artists. The word is an art work, but people can use Futuring for their personal history, or in their thinking. Every person is different, but I think for Futuring, there are three important things. Freedom, courage, and art!”
Their pink saturated website states in Germanized English, “Wherever We Are Is Museum”. They have most certainly put this statement into practice. Since 1991 they have been appearing in the international art world together, always dressed in their own fantastically eye-popping creations, and always together, like twin smiling colourful Cheshire cats. Public spaces have become their museum where they attract the stares and interest of passersby, ever obliging the curious, the amused, or the admiring with a photo or a chat. Attracting attention is at the core of their appearance; it sets in motion an exchange between artist and viewer but it also confuses the role between subject and object. Whilst countless curious spectators ask for a photograph with the two artists, the artists in turn ask for copies to turn a snapshot of a brief exchange into art works. Their work isn’t all performative, it also encompasses installation, costume, watercolours, gouaches and drawings, the focus of an exhibition, ‘Obsidian’, at MARTa Museum in Herford (Germany) earlier in May this year.
Using play to fight against the rigidity of society and the art world, their mere presence injects fun and happiness into their surrounding environment, and also spreads a message, hopes ADELE. “It’s really funny, this year we are in a schoolbook for high-schoool in Germany. It’s incredible! Students can think about what freedom, luck and courage mean, and how you can do something like EVA & ADELE, and what that means for your life. I think it’s an interesting influence of our work not just on German society, but worldwide.”