Conchita Wurst is an icon. After winning Eurovision in 2014, Wurst became a household name, going on to appear as a guest of honour at the European Parliament, the United Nations Office in Vienna and pride parades around the world.
But Wurst, with all her glitz and glam, is simply a character — a creation of performer and artist Thomas Neuwirth. Although Neuwirth and Wurst are clearly kindred spirits, sharing a storytelling might and captivating allure, it is Neuwirth’s ability to be introspective and ask questions of identity and gender that breathe life into Wurst, forming her into the endlessly fascinating and empowering character we know today.
Wurst’s exploration of identity continues with this shoot in collaboration with photographer Timo Gerber. Inspired by retrofuturism and the films of the 1980s, the duo come together to weave a tale of self-expression and, in aggregate, self-love. Schön! joins Neuwirth/Wurst to discuss the shoot, quarantine and more.
How did this shoot with photographer Timo Gerber come about?
I saw one of Timo’s photos and shared it on socials as I often do with content that inspires me. Timo took the initiative and asked me in a direct message whether I’d be interested in a collaboration. As often, I followed my gut feeling and said yes.
Gerber said he was inspired by your blurring of binaries for this shoot. How else did you influence the shoot and resultant imagery?
Timo and I met in Berlin weeks ahead of the shoot, because it’s crucial to have a personal connection. He is such a delicate soul, detecting and picking up tiny emotions and ideas. When he presented his ideas to me and how he wanted to produce this project, I was instantly in awe. I knew he was someone I could totally trust and was so happy to have met someone bringing in his amazing ideas. Blurring and disrupting the gender binary is something I was always fascinated with, so much so that I even integrated it in my every move.
This shoot was partially inspired by the past’s vision of the future. What social change do you think would most surprise someone from, for example, the 80s looking at the world today?
The most surprising social change I believe is the non-changing situation, the stagnation and how little society has evolved on the level of humanity and compassion. There are still wars, and I would like to believe that people in the eighties wished for a peaceful future. Self evidently, there were many positive developments over the past decades on various levels. But I believe the awakening of humankind as a whole hasn’t really happened and might never happen.
Naturally this piece was also influenced by the pandemic. How did this period affect you as a creative?
From one day to the next, my calendar was emptied and my livelihood pulled out from under my legs. That’s what happened to a lot of artists. After the initial shock, however, I quickly understood the opportunity this situation presented. I didn’t want to do private concerts from my living room. Instead, I could now dedicate myself to my own projects, without being dependent on others. So, together with my team, we started to realise projects that are not only entertaining for ourselves and for my fans. But also to realise ideas that are artistically interesting and that can trigger emotions on different levels. And last but not least, I took the opportunity to finally work with other creatives like Timo.
Many of the aesthetics from this series are inspired by 80s films. Is there a film that you feel has had a great impact on your style, or the way you view the world?
Although already released in 1975, The Rocky Horror Picture Show has had a great impact on how I see the world. The idea of muscular men in lingerie has ever since occupied a space in my head, and I am still fascinated by that imagery to this day. Of course, it looks a bit dated looking at it today, but it was a 70s look and critique of the 50s image of gender roles, anyway. It’s very interesting how we always look back at the past wondering how we could be so old-school, while we always look into the future filled with fear of change. That’s so ironic.
What emotions or energy were you seeking to capture with this shoot?
After a series of art shoots that I was able to do with a couple of photographers, I was thrilled to have the shoot with Timo showcasing a new side of me. I love the sleekness of the looks, which was of course the result of the looks of contemporary Berlin fashion designers, well put together by stylist Gianluigi Porcu working hand-in-hand with the flawless make up and amazing hair work by Stefanie Mellin and her assistant. When looking at the photos, they evoke readiness for the future as they depict how all of us see gender-fluidity. And of course, I never felt hotter before.
The dream of this shoot is a future where gender no longer plays a role. Do you believe such a world is possible — and if so, do you believe it’s possible within our lifetime?
Oh, I wish I had the answer to this question. I am very optimistic about most things and try to focus on the progress we are making as a society. Acceptance of a diverse gender in Germany’s official papers is a step in the right direction. And although most people are not directly concerned, it changes the world for those few who are. Real inclusion means that we celebrate individualism and see the beauty in differences, and I think art is a fantastic means of pushing the envelope long before such developments manage to arrive in the mainstream. And if nothing else works, a comet hitting our planet will solve everything.
Follow Tom Neuwirth a.k.a. Conchita Wurst on Instagram.
photography. Timo Gerber
fashion. Gianluigi Porcu
talent. Tom Neuwirth a.k.a. Conchita Wurst
make up + hair. Stefanie Mellin
photography assistant. Julian Nketiah
make up + hair assistant. Rafael Delgado
words. Braden Bjella