It’s a typically grim Friday morning in November as Jackson and I head to Dalston. Splutters of rain and gusts of wind contribute to an overwhelming greyness, which can often leave one feeling insipid. This quickly melted upon entering the studio of Damselfrau, a.k.a Magnhild Kennedy. A realm of well-collected objects, excellent greenery and the sleekest whippet I’ve ever seen: this seemed a space of wonder.
It was the abundance and potential of objects which drew Magnhild and her husband Robert, who runs the studio, to London in the first place. An avid eBayer- which was incidentally the birthplace of her avatar Damselfrau; Magnhild animatedly recalls seeing a daytime television program wherein a woman sought and found 400-year-old floorboards for her flat, in a salvage shop on Old Street. “I thought, I want to go where you can buy 400-year-old floorboards!” to London, the “ghost of an empire” which so sharply contrasts with Norway, a haven of modern design.
“I started working with masks pretty quickly after I moved to London,” she tells me, as her craftsmanship initially developed from the glamour and flamboyance that London’s club scene offered. Creating the pieces solely for partying quickly became lack-lustre, though, but Magnhild had realised the richness and therapeutic nature of textiles. Suffering from ADD, the mask-making artistry was a great means of focussing her creative mania, all the while entering “a feminine culture of craftsmanship. I learn through women,” she says, often using Youtube to watch clips of housewives, especially in America. “They’re so hungry to maintain a domestic culture,” she remarks as we discuss the value attached to a crafted, indulgent object. “It’s very baroque and over-informed. I don’t plan anything, I don’t draw, it just doesn’t sit right until it’s informed so much,” with the rich visual language of textiles evidenced in the intricate embroidery and masses of beading.
Photography by Jackson Bowley for 1 Granary
“Textiles will behave in ways that you didn’t know, it’ll come with flaws.”
Impressed by her ability to make and create, reflecting only upon images she’s interested in and textiles techniques within craft-books: Magnhild doesn’t read much, but instead “looks much”. The natural ease with which she produces her masks, sometimes creating a piece within a few days, undoubtedly stems from her artistic background, as despite not attending art school, both her parents are fine artists and follow minimalistic tendencies within their work. “Those are still the shows I’ll go and see,” she says. Minimalist art is, according to Magnhild, “a good place for your head if you’re so messy like me.”
“I’m having a very slow art schooling” Magnhild states, “I’m making the means” of an artistic outcome, which she is unsure of, but certain that the pieces are shrouded in performative potential. Damselfrau has continually worked with theatre producer Lisa Lie, though the masks equally have been interpreted within the contexts of fashion, fine art and music videos alike. I remark upon this interdisciplinary reception and re-appropriation of the mask as we discuss if the pieces need to be categorised. The concept of Damselfrau means “an unmarried woman and a married woman” simultaneously, this duality lends itself nicely to ideas of masquerade and becoming a character: “I don’t make them as a design object, I make them as a person, so they get photographed and get a name and are put out on the web,” which is part of the work. It can turn into performance or photography- it’s a person, it can be put anywhere. And in this realisation of the material-personified, Magnhild becomes very attached to her works, which she mostly creates for her own pleasure. “I like them to travel and return, they need surgery every now and then.”
Halloween ball Voodoo commissioned by Immersive Cult for private client’s event
Shot by Julia Hetti, styled by Alister Mackie for AnOther Man Issue 21
“I like the utilitarian approach to make your life beautiful.”
Indeed her process is material-led and non-specific. The timing can vary greatly, though she prefers it when the work has taken months and “has had time to fester.” When I ask about where she sources her beloved textiles, she beams- “everywhere!” though car-boots are her preference. “I’ll rip apart old things, I’m not that respectful. I like it when it comes with a bit of shit and patina and it’s been around. It’ll inform stuff and lead the process faster.” The characteristics and potential within textile materials is reinvented through Magnhild’s artistic hand-writing, which itself is informed by an array of entities: the flamboyancy of the New Romantics, sci-fi comics, tribalism and subcultures, stuff which “has an otherness to it”. This preoccupation with the fantastical and utopian is why Damselfrau is drawn to designers such as McQueen for his Gothicism and Yohji Yamamoto for his avant-garde approach.
Just as her masks are deemed beings in their own right, they speak for themselves and PR is not too much of a concern- “I don’t send the work to people, in this world of information, the right people will come and people will find me if the work’s good.” I can’t help but marvel at the thought of such artistic freedom, the result of which is a collection of unique objects which Damselfrau will show in an exhibition at Dalston Pier running on Saturday 21st and Sunday 22nd November. Displaying the pieces as artworks once more portrays the potential of their form. This is eloquently summarised in a Jasper John’s quote which Magnhild feels is intrinsic to her practice- “Take an object. Do something to it. Do something else to it.”
Leaving the studio, having gotten up close and personal with the masks (see photos), I happily pondered how a real enjoyment of one’s craft leads to inevitable success. You can follow Damselfrau here on Instagram for more insight and inspiration. Please do, for she reveals “I’m an Instagram freak, I love it!”
Also see the blog here.
Words by Lilah Francis