There are some people who construct authenticity and make it a full-time job. Creative multiplayer Henrik Vibskov just is – pickled cucumbers and the start of your educational career couldn’t be made up. Vibskov’s singular talents do not come from a place where he overanalyses his every move. He is a gut man, but one who needs a deadline and structure, and doesn’t have time to be a one-hit wonder.
Making of the Onions. The Onion Farm, 2018.
Henrik Vibskov is a Libra.
Not just by birthright, but by design. His work is balanced, not only within an individual collection or exhibition, but also across his entire career. He drops casually into our interview from his first meeting of the day – organizing visuals for Copenhagen Fashion Week. He mentions that he’s also teeing up the launch of a trilogy of books based on his work over the last 20 years or so. He’s a painter, a fashion designer, a sculptor, a professor, a writer, a director and a father among so many other things.
For our chat, he dons a magnificently printed navy and white cardigan, busy in pattern but more muted in colour, and he speaks not only through words, but with sounds, his repetition of “whoa” as a form of expressing big emotions; how he felt looking back on the last 20 years through the lens of his books, or how his parents felt when each of the Vibskov children found their various callings. He’s a visceral creative, finding expression between two worlds. The first, the world of design, how he presents himself and the visual. The second, the world of sound, how he speaks, music. So when he reveals that Bowie is one of his greatest inspirations, it’s not at all surprising.
From the handbag that’s actually a cast of a sink to the blushing lamps fringed with red jellyfish tentacles and his totem pole-like wooden sculptures, his work has a tangible quality.
The Onioin Farm, 2018, V&A Museum London
It’s multi-dimensional, a juxtaposition of reality and fantasy, you want to reach out and touch it. The Onion Farm (2018) is no exception to his signature vibrant wackiness. In this piece, ‘onions’ hung from a structure alongside artificial lights in an interactive installation suspended among centuries-old tapestries in London’s Victoria and Albert Museum. The surrounding tapestries do not depict some pastoral ideal but harsh realities, reflecting “British history with hunting, wars, how they survived”.
"While the structure of The Onion Farm appears as something almost futuristic, it is rooted in the much more traditional concept of farming which Henrik describes as a commentary on society today in terms of time and evolution. “[it’s] a reflection on how we live, how we work”. As we continue to chat, it seems to represent something more personal too. The piece resonates with the story Henrik tells me about how his father was the first of his siblings to go to university and get an education, while the rest stayed on the farm. The sterility of the material used in the installation echoes his father’s progression into the medical field, while the concept of a farm and the textile onions shows his roots.
The Onioin Farm, 2018, V&A Museum London
His creations always have that je ne sais quoi ‘Henrik’ trademark whether they’re stomping down the runway, in a museum, or in the pages of magazines. The history of Henrik’s work leaves breadcrumbs – or rather chunks of food, from the recent confectionary inspired clothing that was splashed across the pages of Vogue, right back to when he applied for The Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts with a portfolio which included a giant bag of pickled cucumbers that burst all over the other applicants' portfolios.
His upcoming installation for the Colors, Etc. exhibition in the French city of Lille, is a manifestation of that uniqueness that’s impossible to deny, and hard to pin down – when we spoke, he couldn’t remember if he had called it anything yet. “It’s spinning around a bit on something we’ve been working on, so it’s a reused [sort of] upcycle of old projects put into newer frames so now it looks like some kind of a sound, audio room,” he laughs. He’s got a punchy enthusiasm when he talks about it, “[it’s got] reflections with mirrors, with the colours orange and lavender, and is working a lot with forms, acoustics”.
You might think for someone who learned form, precision and regiment at London’s Central Saint Martins art school, that originality and uniqueness would be a conscious choice, something worked towards, something to strive for, or honed. But for Henrik, his own stamp and his signature style came from one unconscious thing – time.
Horizontal Driill Exercise, 2021, Colors, etc., Tripostal, photo Maxime Dufour
He maintains that creating your own identity is something intuitive. “I think in general I try not to analyse myself too much,” he confesses, which is an attitude many could benefit from, in an online age where perception is everything. There’s so much pressure nowadays to be authentic. Henrik doesn’t buy into that pressure though, for him it can't be manufactured. It’s not an Instagram profile that serves as a caricature of who someone is, or feigned originality
Some of his favourite creators are the likes of Miyake, Margiela, Yohji Yamamoto and of course Bowie. They all have at least two things in common, originality and time, and that’s no coincidence according to Henrik, the two go hand in hand, you can’t have one without the other. “Nobody wants to be a one-hit wonder,” he tells me. “I think for most creative people, [authenticity] has to be combined with a time schedule, so within years, within 10, 20, 50, 100, years. That's kind of where that pattern is created and it’s not from, hey, I have to do a new project tomorrow and this is my only project I've ever done”.
An inspiration a little closer to home was Henrik’s brother, who growing up made it easier for Henrik himself to forge his own path in life. He appreciates that his brother “did the big job” by being the first to drop out of school at 16 to pursue something totally different, “to do music, to live by music”. It caused a ripple effect in the Vibskov household, and his sister dropped out the week after. It set up a premise, and Henrik laughs thinking back to how his parents had to deal with “the three kids they got”, and how they must have felt “phew” when finally Henrik became a teacher, his sister owned her own restaurant, and his brother joined the priesthood.
Horizontal Driill Exercise, 2021, Colors, etc., Tripostal, photo Maxime Dufour
His parents had a completely different outlook, and they came from a completely different background. Regardless of what he decided to do, Henrik understood that his own background and family foundation would give him a cushy place to land if he tripped up. “I’m also reflecting a generation where I’m middle class, and [growing up] I was given for sure more space” and certainly less responsibility in some ways, “a middle class where okay it’s gonna be all right. You don’t have to go in the fields [to] get anything, potatoes and stuff like that”. He didn’t have to go down the same path as his mother or father, who were in the medical sector. He could try (and ‘fail’ at) other things if he wanted to, and he did – engineering school, music, drumming with musicians like Trentemøller and Mikael Simpson, because of that cushion.
However, it’s clear to anybody that Henrik does not take that privilege for granted. He gives back. In 2014 he set up The P.I.G Foundation, which is active in various educational programmes and cultural events, and runs an annual award that offers financial support to a creative individual deemed a Practical Intelligent Genius. EVERY CHILD is an initiative he kick-started in 2016, making apparel for kids and adults alike including shirts, raincoats and tote bags, with all profits going to various charities, such as Save the Children Denmark, the non-profit P.I.G, and the Danish Refugee Council. So even though his profession isn’t in line with that of his parents, it’s very much in line with the ethos that drove them straight back to their practice right after having their children, “where you have to take care of other people”.
Although he was the first of the Vibskov kids to finish high school, regular schooling wasn’t really for him. “I was maybe not dyslexic, but slow with the spelling, and reading, with math, and newspapers.” Even at Central Saint Martins, he preferred a regimented structure rather than a laissez-faire attitude, because left to his own devices, he'd drift. Something I witnessed first-hand when he asked could we have our meeting a week later than we initially planned, “I really need to have a deadline or else I’m going to hang out on the sofa,” he said.
Despite having a somewhat patchy relationship with schooling at times, he maintains that having a school education over being a self-taught artist is favourable. Why? The answer brings it back round to the pivotal word of our conversation – time. “I think there are people who are learning by doing and using a lot of time,’ which he acknowledges is necessary if they need to work alongside their learning. In Denmark, education is free, and Henrik tells me that the school system is great. “It’s a good possibility for learning craftsmanship, form, structure, history, all kinds of perspectives in creative studies.” There’s a certain freedom awarded to art students to experiment during those school years that they don’t always get later on.
Henrik Vibskov//SINDROMS MAGAZINE. Photo Ausra Babiedaite
Though artists and creatives are awarded this magnificent freedom, Henrik admits that over the last few years things have changed, the path has narrowed. “You can’t go left, right, you have to walk on that thin line of not doing things wrong, you can’t do any mistakes,” he says. Nowadays it is imperative to stay within particular parameters, to work alongside major societal shifts. As an artist, you work in a world willing to 'cancel' you for your mistakes, "I feel it locks the whole creativity," he tells me. "But, you know for mankind, [mistakes have] also been how we've learned. How we have evolved." After all, “[We learned that] fire burns [between] wood sticks, but that was a mistake.”
As our meeting draws to a close, we finish by talking about the current state of the world and how it impacts everyone – the way we live, our day to day, our jobs, and our creativity. “Maybe the pandemic, hopefully in the end, will have given [us] something a little more tightened in to the bone, people are realizing what they’re doing, what they’re using their time on, how our nature is behaving,” and most importantly “Why? Why are you doing what you’re doing with your life?”
Henrik is also a parent, so family is something he balances between work. My first question “How are you?” is met with a measured “pretty good”, a decent response for someone who had no more than a few hours sleep. He was awake until two in the morning with the kids and was up again at five for meetings. Our transgenerational chat about grandparents, parents, siblings and ourselves makes me wonder about time and what things will be like when his kids are older. In 20 years how will the world look? Maybe it’ll be more like one of Henrik’s creations – balancing between artificial and unreal, fact and fiction, a medley of a time gone by and something completely unpredictably new. If Henrik has anything to do with it, it’ll certainly be colourful and never boring.
Henrik was born on the 5th of October. Libras are typically harmony conscious people. They’re sensitive to the sphere of art and make excellent designers, decorators, stylists and artists. They’re amazing at launching new initiatives. According to online sources, they create environments that reflect their exquisite tastes.
Sound like anyone?
Colors, etc., Tripostal, Lille, France, 9 April-12 September, lille3000.eu