BEA1991 + CLARE GILLEN | 21st Century Friendship

by Hannah Jackson

Trying to present herself in a cookie-cutter way has never interested BEA1991. The Dutch multidisciplinary artist does not create work for mainstream consumption, but rather for herself and the people who appreciate her genuine artistic expression. “I’ve always been in a very borderless environment in that respect. That feels like freedom, but it also feels a bit caging when trying to explain myself,” she says forthrightly.

Much of Bea’s inspiration for different mediums are branches of the same tree. Thus, it makes sense that the idea of modern comforts served as a muse (and song title) for her latest album, Brand New Adult, as well as her recent designs. Photographer and creative director (and frequent collaborator with Bea) Clare Gillen and Bea have modern comforts of their own: Uber and Lyft for Gillen; and for Bea, being able to text her grandmother.

Photo by Clare Gillen.

Photo by Clare Gillen.

The energy between the two friends and collaborators is electric, evident even from a spotty phone signal spanning a 5,563 mile distance. How the two bi-continental BFFs maintain a strong bond is a matter of hard work, though with their palpable chemistry, it is easy to see why they put in so much effort to keep up their long-distance friendship.

“We also try and meet up when we’re in the same country, which is rare,” Bea says. “And I think when you have a long-distance friendship like that—one that’s evolving—you kind of grab every opportunity that you have.” Bea attributes her fast and intense connection and the rapid-fire growth of their relationship to their innate trust for one another. “I think we triggered this greed for knowledge,” she claims of their relationship, which she affectionately calls a “21st century friendship.”

Photo by Clare Gillen.

Photo by Clare Gillen.

One such relationship-affirming trip took place when Gillen invited Bea to Italy to attend the Venice Biennale. Bea, however, had another idea: “She said in a whispering voice, close to my ear, she said, ‘Let’s just go right to the countryside,’” Gillen recalls as Bea laughs.

With that, the two bolted to Pacantro, Abruzzo to shoot Bea’s latest designs. “The intention was to integrate Bea into the environment in a way that lends itself as an excuse for us to play and experience the environment—less as a backdrop, but rather as a means to integrate ourself into the nature that was surrounding us,” Gillen explains. It is clear that they have achieved this goal. Bea is reminiscent of an impish and mysterious wood nymph, allowing a rare but fleeting moment of capture by Gillen—the one she deems worthy of viewing her, unguarded, in her natural habitat.

In contrast with the ethereal analog shots, Gillen and Bea also shot a handful of looks in the wee hours of the morning. The two had “gotten lazy eating pasta and lounging by the fire,” when they realized there were still a few looks left to shoot. With no more light in the day, the two rose before the sun to capture the remaining photos in the pre-dawn hour.

Between Gillen’s ongoing work with notable artists include King Princess, Kim Petras, Wet, Shlomo, and Bea’s newest album, Brand New Adult, the two have had a busy few months. When I ask what we could expect next from the dynamic duo, Bea doesn’t miss a beat.

“Clare Gillen World Domination,” she answers astutely. Gillen, however, has a bit more of a realistic (for now) plan: some well deserved artistic self-exploration. "I’ve found a way to earn a career doing art for other people, and I finally feel like it’s my time to enter in on my own journey of art making and doing the creative work I do for other people for myself.”

Despite talk of solo projects, the two still allude to perpetuating their collaborative practice. So be prepared for more from the powerhouse duo.


All photos by Clare Gillen.