- You can practically be naked, when you are so dressed up in the face.
Magnhild Kennedy started out making masks as a hobby, but her hobby turned into something more when electro-duo Röyksopp took her masks on tour in 2009. This summer her work is seen on screen in the new Britain’s Next Top Model promo, and Kennedy is really starting to make a name for herself – the name Damselfrau.
- I tend to play with words. The name first served as an online-avatar, for Skype and stuff like that. There’s just something about the aesthetics of this word that appeals to me, Kennedy says.
Damselfrau means married to yourself.
- It’s awkward and seems a bit uncomfortable with itself. A word that masks itself! That’s why it eventually became the name of the mask concept. The meaning of the name morphs as I use it and as time passes. It changes continuously and I am still not comfortable with it. We can just about stand each other, she smiles.
For years Magnhild was under the impression that the mask project appeared out of nowhere, but it has slowly occurred to her that she has always worked with masking, even as a little kid.
- As a girl, one of my biggest hobbies was making paper dolls, and I’d layer and cover them up and make insane amounts of gear and clothing. Once when I was little, my mum gave me Erté’s ‘French Avant Garde fashion of the 1920’s’ paper dolls, and I am certain that these dolls are paramount to my understanding of aesthetics in my work today. The format of the mask is very satisfying.
- It’s the ultimate ornament! And you can practically be naked, when you are so dressed up in the face. I have a desperate, eminent need to communicate, and I struggle with the nip and tuck and control of this. That is probably one of the main reasons for the making of masks.
The designer started making them as an accessory for masked balls and parties in London, but it quickly took a different, more artistic direction. Kennedy says that the making of one piece is a long process.
- I enjoy the making of the piece itself, because it serves as a type of meditation. I plan nothing. I start with the material, and let whatever comes, come. Then I photograph it on myself. I’m no photographer, so what comes out is quite accidental. Then I do some post production, till I sit there with an object miles away from the initial little piece of fabric. I’ve made a space. The mask is a space. It is the final ‘space’ I am interested in.
Since the creative artist started this project she has worked only on textile. Mostly second hand, antique and used materials. She sources it in second hand and flea markets and on eBay, and look for materials when she travels.
-I also pester my friends to give me things to work with. I’m a maximalist and pretty aggro at that. Barock and Art Noveau, Italian Glamour and Traditional Chinese Costume! I love old textiles because they come with unexpected distinctions and flaws. It’s bewitching when stuff happens in the piece that I cannot control. I embroider a lot, and I paint a little bit. I work a lot with beads and stuff that shines and sparkles. I’m looking for texture, palette and movement. The photography is beginning to play a bigger role. I need to get more into that.
Her inspirational process usually starts with the feel of the bit of textile or piece she has in front of her. However, she highlights that certain stuff gives her direct input such as films from Italian sluggers like Fellini and Passolini, Peter Greenaway, and Jacque Tati.
- I am brought up with the severe ladies of Modigliani, which have taught me a great deal about gaze and space. Oskar Schlemmer of the Bauhaus School’s costumes. National costume from all over the world, particularly West Africa, Central Asia and the Middle East. I also get very inspired from watching other peoples working methods, even if they work with things remote from mine.
Living and working in London
Kennedy is originally from Trondheim, but spent many years in Oslo, before she made the big move to London in 2007 to work and develop her art.
- The great thing about London is the folks. Here you can meet anyone and everyone. I moved here to be close to British Museum and V&A. These places are out of this world! In London you meet artists and people who work with thing you didn’t even know it was possible to work with.
What are the plans ahead? Are you currently working on any projects?
I have some of my work hanging at l’Atelier, which is a beautiful shop in Dalston, East London. Britain’s Next Top Model has used my work in the promo for the next season, so it will be cool to see my work on TV. I have also met a Belgian filmmaker I am keen to work with, so I’ll be nosing into that medium and I am very excited about that.
She doesn’t define her masks as fashion or art, and tries to avoid narrowing herself down to the one or the other.
- I feel like it’s not up to me to decide really. My pieces range from dainty lace pieces to weird things you can’t even look through. They move all the time. I see no reason to limit the work to a certain direction. I’ll gladly go in all directions, she concludes.
Words: Cecilie S.Olsen
Photos: Magnhild Kennedy & Sayaka Maruyama