by Nuno Beirão Vieira
"Could you fuck your own sister or begin dropping Dinintel today and stay high on it till 2040? That’s right, these ladies.."
Published in Vice
Photography by Nuno Miranda
They were models, anorectics, punks & fashion designers, imaginary characters starring on the feature film they also direct: their own life. The mythical Castilho sisters came on to the Porto scene in the 70’s, that dark & intimate city on a bed of hard granite, living the first bliss of post-revolution. They created bizarre objects – beds made out of tombs, fingerless latex gloves, belts out a garden hose. Could you fuck your own sister or begin dropping Dinintel today and stay high on it till 2040? That’s right, these ladies, who rightfully roam the collective hell of the city, can do that & a whole lot more. Today they are Targus & Volpina. Vice says thanks.
I first saw them in the 90’s in Porto. If you’d passed them by you would ask yourself, as I did, who are these creatures? Where do they come from and what do they do? They stood out, owing much of that to their extravagant beauty. They were like a two-headed beast, unique and enveloped in a haze of mystery. Some friends had seen them around but no one knew much about them, beyond finding them strange, scary and inseparable.
The Castilho sisters are terrifyingly sweet. They’re like precious rare antiques hidden in a basement and their eccentricity holds the stories of their many lives. They were into trash & created fashion, they were into rock and showed off their nudity: numerous alter egos tenderly breast-fed & brought to life. Their look is rich & fluid: if the heavy dragging boots suggest punk, the black cowboy clothing brings up images of a strange gothic universe; while their make-up brings out their vampirish beauty, the opaque contact lenses seal their fondness for something darker.
With thoughts of these obscure characters roaming through my mind, I stopped for a coffee near their place. It went down like holy water. My desire to invade the sister’s ghostly privacy drove me to them. Targus let me in, namesake of the bullfighter in Oxo’s La Mort Amoreuse, fighter of fantastical creatures mounted on raging bulls. From behind her out came a blonde, Volpina of name, sex-symbol taken from Fellini’s Amarcord. This is the couple the sisters adopted some years ago. From the claustrophobic entrance hallway I was pushed onto some steps which diluted into a dark corridor. They took me to the other side of the house, led by Targus. “This way”, she said pointing to a spiral staircase. They sped me along politely into their nest depriving me of fully absorbing the mummified landscape around us.
Down in the basement – the most appropriate setting for this encounter – I was free to savour my surroundings, which seemed to be split between a private boudoir and an experiment lab room. Amongst the sights there was a bust of red lips & on the corner an old sewing machine, probably the same one used to tailor many of the stories of the “Frankenstein” sisters. It’s a chaotic museum to their lives, well tendered and kept. As we introduced ourselves we were joined by their cat, ceremoniously pacing down the stairs, as if opening the scene on the wild stories to follow.
We began our conversation having a beer and lounging on the bed of their boudoir, which they call Jet-Plane – mirrors to one side, on the other leather harnesses;
-Do you wanna roll up one cigarette for me? Targus asked. Her soft serene voice contrasted with her punk image, it was like hearing a pigeon snoring.
While lighting up the cigarette, Targus asked if I knew the name she used in the 80’s – “Doctor Narcuvius”, she clarified. The Egyptian tone of the name was influenced, as she pointed out, by the hip-hop producer Egyptian Lover, author of the legendary theme Allezby Inn. The doctor was Volpina’s Egyptian lover – or, at the time, her care nurse. The lives of the Castilho sisters are full of fabled & eccentric couples, characters dressed & embodied according to their needs.
One of those stands out for its comical value: Napoleon Bonaparte & Cicciolina. This was a couple who met & fell in love in Ibiza, while the Emperor was away on holiday. “We wanted to turn the French revolution upside down”, Targus said. This is how the sisters replied when someone asked them to prepare a show about the French revolution – in the end it never saw the spotlights after a fall-out with the producer. They transform everything around them, be it a simple bracelet, an apartment in Paris or a French revolution, and they do it to perfection. Nothing and no one is safe when they are around. The sisters have a constant need to distort the senses, to whip up reality and create anew. This attitude, which Targus calls “dangerously free”, later revealed something greater, a sort of parallel dimension to the self, what the French term “folie-a-deux”, two people dreaming and living alike.
Back in the basement, we were now in Ibiza, at the beginning of the 80’s, where their lives took the first great leap. They went from being two wild chicks on heat to the darlings of the island’s club scene. “It all began with the parties and from the day we dived, naked, into one the clubs’ pool. We became known & were invited to pose for a newspaper in Ibiza, but in the end the photographer was deported or something. Then we began decorating the sets for the club nights. And on the second year we went to Ibiza, we made clothes using plastic. That’s when the first clothing and accessories came to be”, said Volpina. A most peculiar detail is that the sisters hated fashion before they got to Ibiza. This Mediterranean island was a sort of incubator from where they were inspired by the potential of Fashion to change the world. They dressed others with their ideas and became the focus of their interest. And they met people. Lots of people. They dated, got high, partied, and abused in healthy abandon. They were, for many years, a beacon of the island’s eccentric nightlife. There was a brief homecoming to Porto – via Barcelona where they styled shop displays – to study at the Gudi fashion school. Porto was the city they grew up in and always returned to, despite with a certain disdain. Even though they spent some time in Lisbon modelling – fuelled by a lot coke up their nose – they lived up north most of their time, sharing the family home & claiming the basement as their turf. They built a world with few friends, most of whom were in the Arts or other alternative pursuits. They became experts on photo shoots, fashion shows, interviews. The more spotlights the better.
However, Porto was, and still is, too small for their expanding universe & they were soon invited to study in Paris. From the smiles on their faces you can tell the city of lights fascinated them and the stories soon follow to confirm. They lovingly called their 16th floor flat “Submarine”. This submarine was reconfigured; walls and furniture destroyed and refurbished in their own style, like the tomb they trashed to make a bed; this was the height of their trash phase. They had little interest in the norm of the school’s teachings, be it studying trends or styling. It became clear to me that what the sisters really wanted out of fashion was the creation of characters. Giving life to these alter-egos had a lot more to do with fulfilling their own lives than serving the symbiotic chaos of a punk obsession. The sisters needed outlets for their madness and always looked at fashion per se with a tinge of humour and sarcasm. “We hated the school. I remember we were doing a project about trends and got a below zero grade on it, because our work used warm colours and was titled Latin Blood. At the time everyone was into grey and we were doing warm colours. We did whatever we wanted to, also because a trend is what is ahead, not what’s already been done, so ‘on y va’… Volpina explained. From then on Paris was one big party.
They went to fashion shows attracting photographers gaze with their bizarre creations – like when in their cyber phase Dr Narcuvius & his nurse sported plastic clothing – or, my favourite “the breakfast with women whose hats were bigger than the coffee table”, and transformed the scene with their happy debauchery. Debauched but unpretentious or as Volpina put it, “Paris e Paris”. Throughout their lives and in Paris in particular the sisters’ irreverent attitude was born out of “love for the art” but it also masked another need – to shake fashions’ embodiment of a sterile and catatonic obsession with appearance. This insistence came at a price, as Targus elaborated, “we began a more autistic phase where we made things for ourselves, with a few exceptions of accessories, belts, clipped neckbands, broaches, all of it dyed by us and made of metal. We spent days on end being creative, with no sleep, high on Dinintel”
Targus & Volpina always loved their drugs. They partied for the best part of 30 years, as many as they were anorectic. The list of substances they indulged in is respectable & vast, from Prozac with added glue and brandy, Dinitel sometimes mixed with the infamous rohypnol, acid – till it got Targus into a coma and she realized she was allergic to it – and cocaine. It was a relief hearing them recall all of it with pleasure; nothing bores me more than tales of sorrow about drugs. As we talked more, the beers kept coming and the more I felt closer to them the more I worried about their fragility; I worried a little less when they described their current diet of fruit, vegetables, meat & yoga.
With a heavy bladder I made my way up the staircase and was met by another black cat, curious and alert to my every movement. We looked at each other briefly and, as if ashamed, we both turned and walked away. Just before walking downstairs again I had the house to myself and for a few moments was able to take in the scenery that had escaped my focus when I arrived. The silence was sombre and vigilant. Looking around it felt like my grandma’s place. Starting with the smell, that sort of deep incense which only time fades away, the furniture, geometrically mummified and the family photos, spread around the house like ornaments. The little light there was, filtered by lowered blinds, was lost on the dark wood. This was in high contrast to what I expected to find. The world upstairs was just normal.
One of the episodes that brought the sisters back to Porto to stay was the opening of their shop. Set in a sort of alternative mall, off the grid for the fashion conscious, the shop was intended to “poke fun at the establishment”, as Targus put it. There you could find a bit of everything from clothes, sado-masochistic objects & toys, accessories like ear rings made out of mattress springs. The shop attracted many, from famous punters like Catarina Furtado to performers of dubious quality, who used the shop and the mall as a stage for their shows. The style of the shop & the crowd it pulled in were seen as a blasphemous cult: “We had some problems, there was a signed petition from the neighbours accusing us of allowing weird stuff to go on” Targus told us, “but there was no truth in that, we just played guitar and smoked”. I believe her and I also believe that together the sisters radiate a very unusual vibe, provoking mixed and contrasting reactions, which helps to understand why the stories they told, for the most part nocturnal, were always ambiguous.
Repulsion & attraction. While they were beaten up for refusing to share a cigarette holder, and while “people would pull away or cross the street” when going past them, the sisters were also seen by many as rare & exotic night creatures, whose presence on the hottest parties was obligatory ornament for any self-respecting club. Besides decorating the cult clubs of the Porto night life, the sisters loved to dance. Targus did it constantly, “in front of the mirror, in a more self-centred phase”, and did it to the point “of having orgasms while dancing”, using the music as a phallus. A Tibetan monk once told her to explore this experience as a good alternative to drugs. They used the night clubs to showcase their creations: dog collars turned into belts, self-styled cowboy hats, “shoes to which we added spikes or soles sanded down till they became pointy”. Nick Cave himself told them, after they gate crashed Coliseu’s backstage “Your shoes are much nicer than mine”. On the same night he elected them as “the most beautiful drag queens of all time”. But for some, many in fact, they were ones to stay away from, and from whom distance was safer, they were seen as poster girls for the apocalypse. This still goes on today. Targus says there are very few who get them, who understand what they’re about, or as she puts it, most can’t “grok” them, term taken from the book Stranger in A Strange Land by Robert Heinlein.
While Tricky sang and the sisters talked I spotted a couple of smaller and discreet photos on the wall. One was of their father, in army uniform; the other of Ramana Maharishi, the Hindu philosopher, whom I knew was important to them having seen the video Learn Baby Learn, by Carina Rafael. In it the sisters marry the grotesque & the macabre with a spiritual message – a nirvana to be reached, according to Targus, “with inner work and a lot of meditation”. It’s weird to blend this spiritual side of them with the image they nurtured. I took them for members of some satanic cult, sadist and bathed in bright red, in the mould of Latin Blood. But this faith in the occult, or lack of any faith thereof (they don’t really like the word), was shaken when some years prior Targus, lying on this very same bed & swearing she “wasn’t high”, felt Ramana Maharishi communicate. She didn’t tell me what he said but emphasised that “more important than having him as my guru was to ‘grok’ him”. This apparition was a turning point into a more spiritual life, as some dreams she’d been having already alluded to: “It always began at six in the morning. In the first dream there was an eagle flying in circles, I really felt like an eagle and there were lots of books, falling apart as the pages turned. Then, on the second dream there were lots of people and fire all around, and people walking, like zombies, into the fire. Only three remained after that: me, Volpina & God, if I’m not mistaken. Then there was a tower where the Devil offered me the Egg of Eternity. I asked whom it came from & Volpi told me it came from the snake. I didn’t take it.”
Our conversation followed the line of memories revisited, they were like the tip of an iceberg floating somewhere on a tired and distant memory. With it they dragged people, situations and a fertile imagination, brought either afloat or under water, on a whim. The only way to fully understand what brought them together so extremely, in this illicit, incestuous sisterhood, was to remain in the depths of that world. I was gently bringing up the subject when Targus came out with it: “We have an incestuous relationship. We can’t be without one another. It’s always been this way.”
In the past “we had a more carnal relationship, even though sex was never something we invested much in.”, she reasoned, adding that “there was always a spiritual element which resulted in a loving communion, until today”. The provocative eroticism of the old days hints at a more depraved lifestyle but on this subject I was advised by Volpi to leave the details to my imagination. One solitary time they tried to live apart, “when Volpina went to London for a month”, but they couldn’t stay apart for long. This was a painful period for Targus – as one of her poems reveals: “Here I am waiting for you / Hey babygirl, why are you always late? Don’t you know you got to have time to touch the sky before you die…”. The London trip and another when Volpina was hospitalized with pneumonia were the only times the sisters were separated, showing their total inability to live without one another.
More than any twins, these two need each other to breathe, to survive. Fortunately for them, their different traits fit together: Targus, more dominative, is the man; Volpina is more submissive, woman of fine ways, more elegant & docile. Among the lovers she collected, besides the incestuous one, were some boyfriends: an important heroin dealer in Paris, the musician Rui Reininho, and the prince heir of Vyrkantzya, who famously carried himself to the night club Industria on a horse and wielding a sword. He was also an author of several books on Transmutalism, a theory that holds the belief we can mutate into other species, infinitely. The pictures I held in my hands, where they kiss, don’t show mere transient excesses – the sisters are bound together in a commitment for immortality and everything they do, be it clothes, cartoons or photography, are expressions of a feverish long way ahead in their unique bond.
In the gentle slow farewell I was left with their sweet perfume. This aroma lingered for a while and was only washed away in the busiest streets ahead. Between the faces and the cars passing by I felt safer, anchored to a ground I was, little by little, more certain of.
Nuno Beirão Vieira
Translation: Pedro Pinto