Mining the Shiny Mind of Rachel Kiernan
Every once in a while, a builder will come along with some stunning custom-decorated Masks to share with us. Today’s interviewee is one-such builder by the name of Rachel Kiernan. When Rachel shared her Halloween 2016 “Freaky-Deaky Death” costume clip with us, we were bedazzled with the boisterously beautiful bejewelled entity shaking its shiny metallic fur at us. It was as if we were being beckoned by a blinged-out orangutan reaper from outer space. In short, we knew we had met someone (or something) special and we wanted to know more… we were not disappointed.
A peek into www.rachelkiernan.com revealed many more creative adventures in craft, costume, installations, outdoor explorations, festivals, death, life and pretty much every other force of stimuli one could imagine. This is a place where rotting carcasses and knitwear can coexist and radiate strange beauty in harmony – a place where the pollens of imagination linger… a place where a reaction is guaranteed. Let’s mine the mind of the woman behind… the shiny skull.
Fletch: Rachel, we love your world and want to know how it came to be. You are a self-described “Maker and Artist.” Do you have a background in theatre, art school or any sort of creative – I hesitate to use the word – discipline?
Rachel: Hi Fletch, I would just like to start off by saying that I am blown away by your description of my work. The way in which you articulated your understanding of the medley of messages that I have presented made my heart very happy.
My creativity is a composite of many elements, which I mainly owe to the support of my family and craziness of my friends. My family and friends put up with a lot from me and if they had not been as forthcoming to throw on a costume, help me to carry fifteen foot wooden wings or tell me that the bunches of silver foil on my bum were just a tad too much, I don’t think I would be half as confident and content as I am today. My loved ones have never treated me like I am ordinary and I love them for this.
Yes, I did a BA in Fine Art, but that’s not where my passion grew. The people I surround myself with, inspire and educate me ever single day. When it comes to creativity, formal education is not something that I fully believe in. I am a jack-of-all-trades, but a master of none and I do not look on this as a failing; it is actually the key to freedom. I used to just call myself an artist, but I have learned through the years that I am much more than that limiting label. If I were to boil things back down to basics - my hands, body and mind find a simple, but wonderful peace in the process of making things.
Fletch: You seem to be able to take inspiration from every available source – from complex conceptual artists like Damien Hirst, to something as simple as knitwear or even the Moon. Yet everything that you produce has a dark, humorous tone all-your-own. You are not one to adhere to a specific medium or genre, but if you had to describe your style, could you or would you if you could?
Rachel: The world is a truly amazing place; a feast for the senses and I am always hungry for more. I have been known to get “hangry” when not fed and I believe this is also true in terms of my creativity. I have learned through tasting and time that I find new favourite foods and the same has been true for other aspects of life. So now, I never say ‘never’ and I nibble at things to see if they are to my taste, at that chosen time.
To define and label is to limit. I seek no box to contain or constrain my work. I would just say that it usually begins from the body and spreads out from there, or vise versa. Opposites excite me because of the creation they make. You cannot have one without the other. The heart works because it stops and starts. We are alive because we breathe in and out.
I tried being an artist that has a set style for a while when I was younger, but I became bogged down by the world of the ego and creative ladder. So I did the hokey pokey and I turned myself around and decided to jump off, stop trying to climb and on the way down I found myself.
I think money changes everything. Of course, it makes sense if you are making money to try and make some more by doing more of what ‘they’ like, but then it’s for them. I am lucky enough to have a creative job, as an arts teacher for adults with learning disabilities. There is no set curriculum, so our creative energy is self-driven in a way that also inspires my own mind.
The darkness comes from seeking the light. I love exploring in the dark because when you find the crack it opens up so beautifully.
Death intrigues me because no one has truly figured it out. I love the idea that we are made up of an energy, which cannot be destroyed. At this very moment in time, I have the ability to choose how I use this energy. Someday death will transform me, but it will not destroy me. So for now, I want to nurture and grow a positive legacy that will pass on to something else when my body dies.
Fletch: Speaking of dark humour, mortality seems to be an undercurrent running through many of your creative ventures. One way of dealing with this most-contemplated, shared human concern is to temper the brutal inevitable with laughter. Was this part of what attracted you to our Skull Mask?
Rachel: Death is funny because it is unexplained. Life is funny for the same reasons. They go hand in hand together in a beautiful dance.
How we choose to handle life’s eventual end is completely up to us. For me, sitting and waiting for it is not an option. I am fascinated by how other cultures and traditions choose to meet death head-on through colour, energy and celebration; it is a great lesson in terms of how we deal with fear. I wanted to create the monster of death; a silver, shiny, fury creature - part human, part animal - and 5.6% otherworldly. Your mask was the perfect starting point for this.
I chose the skull because of its symbolic strength, because it made the costume seem even more ape-like and simply because I love skulls and bones. My love of creating something out of nothing, geometry, costume and play were fully satisfied through the creation of this mask. The instructions were easy to follow and I even found the process of making the mask a little therapeutic!
Fletch: The real sheep teeth in your “Freaky-Deaky Death” Skull add a hilarious-yet-chilling realism to the equation. You have a bone collection – we just need to know more.
Rachel: It needed to be brought back down to earth somehow and I felt that like in Damien Hirst’s ‘For the Love of God,’ the addition of real teeth did this. I am a lover of the found object and what better treasure to find then an empty shell, which some creature used to live in? I collect bones and skulls because they remind me of what I am made up of. I think it is important to think about how amazing our bodies are; bones, muscles, fluid and skin - energised by electrodes, frequencies and signals that bring us all together. We are amazing and bones bring you back to the basics of all that.
I am also hugely driven by the use of recycled and found materials. Making something beautiful and inspiring out of reused materials is such a driving force for my work. I like to think of myself as a sort of alchemist, finding joy in transforming things of little value into something new and even magical.
Fletch: Your “full body silver tasselled monster suit” is the kind of thing that could make Rick James blush – truly and fantastically freaky. How does it all hold together? Do you ever shed metal?
Rachel: My Monster is my favourite costume of all those I have ever made and worn. The initial design involved a pair of painter’s overalls, covered with bundles of silver foil (remnants from the production of crisp packets.) This, however, proved to be quite uncomfortable and not very user-friendly, so I cut it in half and glued the tassels onto a pair of leggings instead. I love how it moves, sparkles and transforms me into a massive monster. The hot glue gun is a friend of mine so my fur does not shed, even in the summer months.
Fletch: Tell us a bit about how you use Wintercroft Masks in your art classes – in particular the HSE EVE Estuary project. We are honoured that you have included us in this endeavour…
Rachel: I used the templates as part of my art class in HSE EVE Estuary, a training service for adults with learning disabilities. My students found the process to be very enjoyable and the finished piece wonderfully rewarding. This sort of project promoted teamwork, encouraged creativity, problem-solving skills and built up self-esteem. I would recommend giving them a go to any art class.
My friend Catherine is actually in the process of creating a herd of your buffalo with her secondary school art class. She was telling me about how much her students love your work and how independent they have been able to be on this project because of how user-friendly you have designed your templates. I can’t wait to see how they turn out.
Fletch: Finally, Rachel, thank you for turning us on to your creative world, are there any future projects that you wish to reveal or hint at?
Rachel: Reconnecting with the natural world and with myself are now my main priorities. I have no future art projects in mind as of yet. I am planning on building a pizza oven and insect hotel in the back garden, that will keep me busy for a bit.
Inspiration I’m sure will find me again. I can never hide too long from it.