In a new project with her long-time creative collaborator, Olivier Saillard, the actor immerses herself in the world of the legendary Italian filmmaker
Tilda Swinton has teamed up with long-time creative collaborator Olivier Saillard for a special art performance. The show, titled Embodying Pasolini, is a celebration of fashion in cinema – more specifically, the work of costume designer Danilo Donati, who helped style the films of legendary Italian director Pier Paolo Pasolini.
In the show, viewers are invited into a reimagining of Donati’s costume atelier; a busy workspace “where a performance is born and takes shape.” Swinton then tries on 40 of the designer’s most influential costumes, all of which appear in Pasolini’s films (the performance features original designs from Salò or the 120 Days of Sodom, The Canterbury Tales and The Flower of the Thousand and One Nights, among others). On stage, Swinton puts on each of the costumes “again and again,” lending her “body,” “thoughts” and “experience” to tell a different story with every fitting.
For Swinton, the work of Pasolini was a natural choice. The actress has been a fan of his work for decades, having discovered his films and poetry while she was a student. “The very first movie I saw was Pasolini’s Love Meetings,” Swinton tells AnOther. “I found it extremely romantic but also punk.” After that, she was reintroduced to the filmmaker’s work through Derek Jarman, who made her watch The Gospel According to St. Matthew while she was shooting Caravaggio in 1986. “When [the Caravaggio crew] asked if it was possible to shoot a close up for a long time, I remembered what Pasolini did in The Gospel According to St. Matthew and said yes. On that occasion, Pasolini was like a patron saint, a fundamental inspiration.”
Much of the power of Pasolini’s films lies, she adds, in Donati‘s costume designs: “[They] have an overwhelming charisma. When you touch the costume worn by Pasolini himself in Canterbury Tales you still feel the vibration. And everyone feels something electric and dangerous when it comes to Salo’s costumes.”
Fashion historian Olivier Saillard has spent years working on similar performances, all of which explore the “poetic vocation of performance.” He started working on Embodying Pasolini with Swinton last January, a couple of months before the pandemic. Although he read and watched much of Pasolini’s work in advance, he stresses that the show is about much more than his film’s costumes. “It is not a biopic,” Saillard clarifies. “The idea is to analyse what a costume is able to give, and not give, after a movie. We chose to do an exhibition through performance, in order to preserve a distance between the costumes and Tilda. In this performance, she is a kind of curator who is sometimes very close to Tilda Swinton herself. Sometimes she is becoming a real curator with all the gestures we have in a museum, sometimes she is becoming a performer trying to get some life into these costumes. All we did is curate a dialogue between her and the costumes.”
Embodying Pasolini is part of Rome’s ROMAISON festival, a project dedicated to exploring the relationship between costume and fashion. Learn more about the project on its official website.