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Stella Lange

Dr. Stella Lange is a maker and educator, working as a Principle Lecturer in the School of Design, Otago Polytechnic, her practice is balanced between textile based making and investigating historical methods of repair and mending through museum collections as evidence of sustainable practices once common but now forgotten.

For the current exhibition, Dreaming of the Future, Stella explored the current Covid environment we are living in globally and produced a wonderful series of face masks that are not only functional but also evocative and meaningful. Not to mention, of course – beautifully executed. There is a series of masks – 7 in total – one for each day of the week. This body of work was selected for the SDA Award of Excellence – a very special recognition of Stella’s thoughtful and professional practice.

Here is Stella’s background statement about this body of work and her own art practice:

Talking while masked.

These works were a personal and community response to Covid-19, and the New Zealand Government requirement to mask while in public under Level 3 and Level 2 restrictions. During the ‘Time of Covid’ – as a New Zealander in New Zealand I worked, studied, played, and lived at home and I watched the world mediated through a digital screen. Social media posts by artists in communities far from me revealed how textile traditions became important signifiers for many. Indigenous artists gathered online to share ‘traditionally crafted masks demonstrating resiliency through [this] 21st century pandemic’ (Facebook group Breathe Here in New Zealand I admired and wondered what my response should be, with a European heritage, and yet as many settlers descendants disconnected from my ancestors indigenous textile crafts, all that remained was a strong 20th Century textile maker tradition.

I was taught to knit by my grandmother, to sew by my mother, to stitch embroidery by my mother, and by many other women as I moved from childhood to adulthood. My family are makers, fixers, and those who use their hands to work what is needed from the materials they have available and can afford. My textile knowledge extended throughout my adult life to include may traditions of European heritage, weaving, spinning, knitting, and different styles of embroidery, books, magazines, and workshops all contributed to my maker knowledges. As New Zealand donned maks and headed out to stay safe in a world with Covid – I began by making my own masks, then that done, making masks for my family, then making more and gifting them, before finally realising Iwanting to say more with my works. I wanted to make masks that expressed some of what I felt. I began with Thank you and Hello, as my first response, and then I asked friends and colleagues what they wanted their masks to say, Dr Jenny wanted to remind people about social distancing, James expressed his feelings for 2020, several wanted to replace the smile a fabric mask concealed, and the modernist in me wanted to reference the social bubbles we used to keep safe.

Making these masks provided a space for me to think about the world, about New Zealand, and about my place in a community of five million as everything about us changed and shifted in response to Covid-19. These masks are an important reflective and making space for me as a textile maker. I began to think about masks that could speak the words that needed speaking. Masks that told the world I cared, that I was one of the ‘Team of five million’, that thanked those I was in contact with but did not know well, and that maybe even shared a sense of confusion about what 2020 looked like. These masks echo the words that needed saying in a world and a year that was very different to any that had gone before.

Details: The embroidery was worked with the fabric stretched tight in a tambour frame, and with a tambour needle in a wooden holder. The mask pattern is one with three darts, one at the nose and two either side of the chin – the pattern can be found as a video tutorial on Youtube here, These masks are three layers as recommended by the World Health Organisation (WHO) in August 2020, and provides an internal pocket for a filter should one be required and the ear loops are adjustable (Jan Howell also of YouTube ). These masks were begun in the first NZ 2020 lockdown in Augusts and completed in September. Made from 100% black cotton calico, and the threads a variety of pearl cottons made for embroidery.

Happy Smile

A smile, the biggest, cheeriest, happiest smile I could muster, generic, childlike and in the most positive colour I could find in my bubble – this smile provided me with the strength to head out into a world masked and yet happy with the way my lipstick looked. Lipstick has always provided a bit of bravado for many people and this mask aimed to do the same – a bright cheery smile to greet what ever we meet in the world. 

hello SOLD

Faces are expressive, and when masks covered mouths and noses I wanted a way to signal friendship and caring to those around me. As we co-existed in bubbles, this cheery yellow hello signals a positive and happy outlook, a bright response, a sense of comfort and happiness in seeing others. SOLD

2m please by Dr J.

I asked my friends, in a socially distanced way of course, what they wanted a mask to say. Dr Jenny, a scientist who understood the biology and the body’s inner workings wanted to remind others that 2ms was not optional. As we queued outside and worked our way in the approved direction inside shops, and queued to pay – the 2m rule was interpreted in many ways. A scientist, a mother and a member of the team of five million – Dr J wanted to signal that keeping a social distance of 2 meters was important to her. 

Community Bubbles – adjacent and separate

Community Bubbles reflects the household and workplace bubbles we found ourselves in mid 2020 in New Zealand, some smaller, and some larger. I imagined our communities divided into sets of ten or less, seen from above, as a graphic representation of together but separated by a socially constructed barrier. These bubbles were temporary and bounded our every move, the walls of each bubble allowed for communication – speaking over fences, across parks or streets, and through other media but remained as clear barriers to closer contact. It was a long time before I could hug my son – his bubble was not my bubble. 

Be Kind

Be Kind is the mask I wanted to wear when New Zealand moved to Level 2 in April of 2020, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern’s message to New Zealanders to ‘be kind’ to each other spoke to me. New Zealanders were uncertain, stressed and worried – and that message sent a clear signal of how we could respect and care for each other. This mask spoke for me – allowed my voice to be seen when covered by fabric to keep me, and my community safe.  

I wanted to thank my team of five million. To send to all the New Zealanders who stopped, and stayed home, who learned to work remotely, who home schooled their children forgotten maths and physical education curricula, who migrated their workplace world to a corner of their home, to those who were ‘essential’ who filled supermarkets shops, cared for the elderly, kept the ill and elderly and less able safe, who crossed the road to socially distance, who missed birthdays, 21st, funerals and births, and who smiled (or not) – a permanent thank you from me. 

thank you
thank you

I asked my friends, those outside of my bubble what they would like a mask to say – something they wanted to tell New Zealand. KiwiJames wanted to ask this, to express frustration, surprise, and a sense of confusion. None of us ever imagined a time when five million New Zealanders would willingly restrict themselves to 2m spacing, to living in a bubble of 10 people or less, of shopping online and working from home – and yet here we were doing all those things. The future was meant to bring flying cars, teletransportation and food replicators – instead we had baking and Netflix and noon updates from the Prime minister – we felt like we were living in a strange parallel New Zealand or featuring in a Twilight episode.  

All of these practical but conceptual art masks are available with more details through our web shop. Please check it out.