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Walter Van Beirendonck: Dream The World Awake

This radical exhibition of Walter Van Beirendonck, is about bringing people together, and challenging the norms of art, fashion and design. Alice Blackwood reports.

Walter Van Beirendonck: Dream The World Awake


August 13th, 2013

In a charmingly clipped yet intriguingly lilting burr, the director of Tate Modern, Chris Dercon, opens his one-off lecture at the RMIT Design Hub with the following words:

Walter image_bluecollarboy Med

Blue Collar Boy

“Here today I see people of the arts world, I see people of the education world, representatives of different cultural organisations, and I see people who are interested in fashion, textiles and fabrics. Normally these worlds are split,” he said.

“But Walter Van Beirendonck, the renowned ‘maverick’ of fashion design, “is bringing these worlds together,” said Dercon.

Dercon, who surely has the best and most exciting job in the world as director of the Tate Modern museum in London, was in Australia with Van Beirendonck to launch the Belgian fashion designer’s poleaxing retrospective.

rmit peter bennets walter van b

Dream The World Awake © Peter Bennetts

It’s Van Beirendonck’s first major international exhibition and encompasses 30 years worth of radical fashion – not to mention a staggeringly large collection of miniature toys.

rmit dreamtheworldawake Peter Bennetts

Dream The World Awake © Peter Bennetts

The exhibition has been the buzz of the local creative community for almost a month now, the ‘graphic’ red pre-event posters, glued up around Melbourne’s most popular hubs, causing ripples of excitement among diehard followers and curious creatives.

Peter Bennetts dreamtheworldawake rmit

Dream The World Awake © Peter Bennetts

As Dercon suggests, Van Beirendonck’s work is a “pioneering situation.”

“And probably that’s going to be the future of visual arts, and the future of culture – that we’re going to have to bring these different [disciplines] together,” he says.

dreamtheworldawake rmit Peter Bennetts

Dream The World Awake © Peter Bennetts

“This whole idea that we split up visual arts from… crafts, it’s an idea of the beginning of the 20th century.  I see these things are coming back together” – with designers like Van Beirendonck leading the way.

dreamtheworldawake rmit

© Patrick Robyn

The presence of this major retrospective at the RMIT Design Hub – whose last exhibition, Convergence, it could be said carried similar themes of experimentation and pioneering new concepts – sends a pretty strong message to the creative community.

© Photo Boy Kortekaas Walter Van B

Dream The World Awake, London © Boy Kortekaas

As Robyn Healy, RMIT associate professor at the School of Fashion and Textiles, states: “It provides remarkable opportunities for… students and [the] research community as well as everyone interested in design to get up close to Van Beirendonck’s work, adventure inside his mind, experience his working processes and engage and reflect upon his ideas.”

© Photo Ronald Stoops Walter Van B dream the world awake

Dream The World Awake, London © Ronald Stoops

Dercon, in his keynote lecture at RMIT Design Hub, recounted an interview he’d had with Van Beirendonck, who quite keenly noted: “We keep talking about fashion as something to protect our bodies with… [but] fashion and cloth are there to express ideas.”

Vicki Jones RMIT

Walter at the Opening Night in Melbourne 2013 © Vicki Jones

Indeed, Van Beirendonck’s fashion is like an attack on the senses – the discordant coupling of fabrics, textures, patterns and colours offset by humorous (sometimes comedic) socio-cultural references that carry a sense of irony – universally appreciated.

walter van b fashion Dan Lecca

Van Beirendonck 2013/14  Season © Dan Lecca

Exploring fashion’s many roles in contemporary culture throughout his lecture, Dercon gave some pause for thought when he stated: “Fashion is not art, it’s industrial design and I also have to say, sometimes fashion is related to art.”

kokkinias athens aargh walter van b

Arrrgh! Exhibition, Athens © Panos Kokkinias

It’s a slightly cryptic statement, and yet a visit (or perhaps a repeat visit) to the Van Beirendonck retrospective puts Dercon’s comments into clear perspective.

It’s a show that’s not to be missed.

Walter Van Beirendonck: Dream the World Awake runs until 5 October 2013 at RMIT Design Hub in Melbourne.

RMIT Design Hub


Walter Van Beirendonck




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