The Selkie’s New Clothes

Costumes: Selena S Kuzman
Headpiece: Caroline Bury
Concept: Selena S Kuzman
Year: 2018- 2020
Commisioned: EventScotland

“The coastline, always changing with the tide, is where seals and people meet as selkies. It is a nowhere place and yet it is all they have.”

Hauntingly, beautifully, the old legend of the selkie re-emerges to express the deep challenges of the present day. The story of shapeshifting, of the skin which enables the transition between the human and natural worlds, crossing the uncertain boundary zone of the shore, is one of transformation. This performance piece by Selena S Kuzman, specially created for the Year of Coasts and Waters, merges in a poetic way the folk stories of the selkie people with the transformation of waste materials and our deep connection with the sea and the land, and our quest to find a world in which we are at home.

The Selkie’s New Clothes are inspired by the Selkie folklore – shapeshifting beings and their transformative powers.

In order to shapeshift they had to cast off their sealskins. Within these magical skins lay the transformative power to return to seal form, and thus to the sea.

And there is a similar transformative power in the process of creating selkie costumes – carried out in this 2018 project by animating pre-loved and discarded textiles from a two-dimensional flat surface into a three-dimensional object.

3D Shibori is a technique for adding texture and shaping textiles by exploiting the thermoplastic qualities of some synthetic fabrics in order to manipulate surfaces. Items are wrapped in plastic, secured with thread and then set with heat, and the process thereby leaves a “memory on cloth” – a permanent record, whether of patterning or texture, of the particular forms of resistance to the change. For fixing the pattern and to create pieces that appear organic, dyeing techniques were used to animate fabric into intricate and delicate shades of grey.

Manipulating the surfaces with 3D Shibori technique was a labour of love, a fascination with the idea that cloth holds the memory of action performed on it, a vehicle for imagination and creativity.

But the Selkie never sheds its skin entirely or forever. The past, present and future is held within it. (As the past is held in pre-loved clothing, the future lies in transforming waste materials into something new and sustainable and the present is the action of doing so.)