Threadstories Makes Textile Masks that Question Personal Privacy in the Digital Age
By Elizabeth Donohue
Fall/Winter 2019’s fashion collections saw an influx of masks- with Gucci, Marine Serre, Richard Quinn, and Moschino using them as symbols for protection, disguise, and facades. In an age of social media and political unrest, it makes sense that fashion designers and artists are delving into the various meanings of masks. This is what led me to visual artist, Threadstories.
Threadstories is an Ireland-based artist who makes textile masks, and then digitally captures them in creative ways that highlight their tangibility, texture, and motion. Her work explores self-identity, privacy, and human performative acts on social media. She displays her work on Instagram, and is just about to hit an impressive 30k followers. She also just showed her exhibit, Falsehoods, for the first time at Kilkenny Arts Festival in November, 2018.
Read my interview with Threadstories below.
How long have you been making masks for? What is your inspiration and creative process like?
I began making my masks in 2014. I describe my creative process as thinking with my hands, meaning no sketches or plan in advance. As I work, the form reveals itself to me, each new mask resolving an issue I had with a previous mask. My technique and understanding of materials has greatly improved since I started in 2014.
Each mask is then photographed in a way I think looks interesting; they are all in flux so I would hesitate to say when finished. I employ gesture, movement, stance, expression and material manipulation , until an image starts to reveal itself. I don’t know what I am looking for until I see it. Increasingly, I am using movement as a tool to narrate.
I don’t have any one line of enquiry or source of inspiration. Everything from traditional basket making, to Francis Bacon’s portraits, to the sight of someone with really crooked teeth, or an episode of Blue Planet, might inspire a mask.
What is the physical process of mask-making like? Do you use traditional textile making techniques?
All masks begin with a crochet balaclava, I then hand tuft the balaclavas to build form. It can take anywhere from a day to a week to build one mask depending on the scale. I see each mask as an investigation of form, movement and colour, they are sketches constantly in a state of flux. I use the same technique each time, it is the materials I choose that are important as they will impact the final outcome immensely. I sometimes feel like creating a mask with lightness and movement, other times stark forms that I can manipulate with my hands or a comb.
You often use the tags #anticeleb and #falsehood in your Instagram captions. How do you believe these concepts relate to your work? Do you personally see your masks as symbolizing protection and privacy, or as a means of creating a self identity?
I am questioning how the erosion of personal privacy in the digital age shapes how we view and portray ourselves online. The masks deny the viewer the full story of who the sitter is, echoing the curated or false personas we portray and view online daily. The masks are mutations of our private and public selves. As the work has developed, Instagram with its interplay of the personal and the artificial, has become an interesting platform to share the kind of art I create. For all the positives of social media, what are the trade-offs? I believe social media leaves its users over-exposed and vulnerable in a myriad of ways. Personal privacy is precious and it is fast becoming a thing of the past; the term ‘anti celeb’ encapsulates some of this for me.
You recently just exhibited Falsehoods at Kilkenny Arts Festival in November, 2018. Congratulations! How was that experience for you?
Thank you- it was a rollercoaster! It was a huge learning experience to work closely with curator Mary Butler, filmmakers Sixbetween, photographer Hazel Coonagh- not to mention, a gallery technician, graphic designers, and printers. It was a big leap from a solitary studio existence to then have to communicate my ideas with a host of collaborators. Communicating my aims felt like taking sandpaper to my art practice, it forced me to smooth out any rough edges when articulating my ideas.
There was some anticipation from people who are interested in my work to, “see the masks”, but I am not interested in exhibiting the actual masks- at the moment anyway. It was hard to stick to my guns and not show them, FalseHoods was a mixture of film, still photography, and a large paste-up on the facade of the building. I believe the masks don’t work as art objects. My experience of when people see them in ‘real life’, is [people] quickly try to figure out how I make them. Once they have that figured out, the engagement ends. The photography and film work is endlessly more captivating in my opinion.
I would like to exhibit more and get the work offline and into and on physical spaces. I plan to do more large scale paste-ups outdoors; it’s not the obvious route and I enjoy that. Making these soft, intimate objects (the masks), on my lap using the domestic and undervalued craft disciplines of crochet and tufting (accentual rag-rug making), then activating them through performance on film or perverting them through scale and context, is hugely exciting. If there are any curators, galleries or festivals out there that want to support this collision of craft, street art please get in touch!
You identify as a visual artist and not a designer, but would you ever collaborate with a design house in the future?
Collaboration for me has to be something that challenges me to push the boundaries of how I work. I have so many ideas, and not enough hours in the day, that it has to be a very special collaboration to take me away from my own studio practice. But I would never say never! I really enjoyed Sheila Hicks and Stella McCarthy’s collaboration recently.