Uncommon Thread: Riitta Ikonen
From the forests of Eastern Finland to a masters at the Royal College of Art, Riitta Ikonen has crafted a fascinating life for herself. An artist, costume maker, teacher, and lecturer, her photographed work draws attention to small moments with large impact, whether the plight of the tiny House Martin bird as it faces climate change or the misunderstandings that occur as gossip is passed from person to person. Ikonen says her mother "is the master tailor of all times, and my room was also her sewing studio when I was growing up," so it only made sense to take the literal threads of sewing to create a metaphorical thread connecting what we see and what we know about the world.
Her first costume was inspired by a final project for her B.A. on the invention of nylon. In response, she created some Human Nylon wear, transforming humans into car seats, suitcases, and life vests to "explore the protective qualities and the safety in this amazing material." Funny, poignant, and often beautiful, the costumes allow us to imagine what it's like not to be human, but to be the plants, creatures, inanimate objects, and concepts that we take for granted.
Not that things always go as planned: a seaweed costume for her Baltic Sea project "was a nice swushy multi-green tangly wonder and looked great on the shore. In water it turned into a blackish floppy tanglesuit looking like... well, nothing." And since her costumes are made to be photographed, they're not always intended to be seen up-close (most have "a pretty course finish" according to Ikonen, although she's justifiably proud of an incredible grass costume on display at the A Foundation Gallery in London this last January). But because each photograph must convey quite a bit of nuance, the costumes are plotted out in great detail before she starts, beginning with a rough sketch and materials plan. "The rest goes by intuition and with plenty of fittings," Ikonen admits.
She's now currently in New York "on the lookout for new adventures" (which includes "scanning my favorite treasure beach for future ingredients") and getting ready for her next show. Come spring, there's filmmaking on the agenda. What she'll be wearing? Who knows!