Stitching Together Identity – An Interview with Anna Hafner

Anna-Hafner-Color Shaman- 2017-photo-Brad Walsh

Anna Hafner, Color Shaman (2017).
Photo: Brad Walsh, Courtesy of the artist.

By Daniella LaGaccia

IG: @lagaccia

What if you could take a needle and thread, stitching together the person you want to be?

Okay, so we all can’t be moon goddesses or crimson dragons, or can we? Meet Anna Hafner, a multidisciplinary artist based in Kingston, New York’s thriving art scene, whose elaborate costume and performance work brings the mythical to life.

Hafner, who currently works as a puppeteer and performer for the Arm of the Sea Theater, has spent the majority of her life making costumes. Starting as early as the as the age of 7, she has  been making costume work for 16 years. The materials she uses include a mix of new and found materials  including recycled fabrics, paint and paper mache—using traditional costume fabrication techniques to create the extraordinary from the everyday.

Her studio looks like a one person costume shop with paints, thread and needle at the ready. The mythical creatures that permeate through her work (a yellow boar, a vermilion dragon, a green rabbit, and aforesaid moon goddess) hang dormant on mannequins waiting to be animated. Elaborate illustrations of future projects decorate her wall, all of which look like they belong in Oberon’s Forrest waiting to be awakened from their midsummer night’s dream.

Moon Goddess

Anna Hafner, The High Priestess of the Winter Moon (2014). Costume.
Photo: Anjali Bermain, Courtesy of the artist

While the theme of Anna Hafner’s work is influenced by these fairy tales, the core of her work focuses on identity. She states that she doesn’t see these characters as separate from herself, but rather aspects of her self, and putting on a costume is chance for her to be more freely herself.  With the change of a costume,  she looks at how we present ourselves through the masks and costumes we all wear.

Daniella LaGaccia: You’re painting eyes onto fabric right now, would you consider yourself a multidisciplinary artist?

Anna Hafner: Multidisciplinary, yes. I’m ADD, I can’t stay in one place, but I do always come back to clothes. I like illustration and whimsy. I was always told that it’s bad to describe your work as whimsy, but I don’t really care.

D: Looking at your work, you do seem to go back to several themes. I would use words like enchanted or mythical to describe your illustrations and your costumes; they take the shape of mythical creatures or spirits. Why do you feel you’re drawn to these figures?

A: I think there’s a lot more in symbolism, in the language of symbolism that we are not taught in this culture that comes through to us in our art. I’m inspired by nature, and I grew up on fairy tales, that’s what I love, and that’s what drives my interests… I’m having a hard time describing it, all I want to call it is sacred signs and symbols. It all means something.

Anna-Hafner-Sketch- Vermillion-the-Dragon-2017

Anna Hafner, Vermilion the Dragon (2017). Sketch on paper. Photo: Courtesy of the artist

D: Yeah, it looks like there’s a lot of moon imagery in your work, a lot of crescent moon imagery and the stars and sky.

A: Well, the feminine is rising in society. The feminine rises in society because that’s what we need. There’s too much masculinity and we’ve overdosed on the patriarchy. Old feminine symbols evoke certain feelings and emotions, by using that in art, and if you’re smart enough to add that in a performance aspect that evokes further emotional response, you can change people’s actions.

That’s my belief. So, I feel like the moon is a necessary symbol in these times to put in front of people.

D: I’ve noticed that when you perform that you take on an identity like a character. Do you want to describe why you do that, or why that is incorporated into your work?

A: I think it goes back to the idea of performance as the art life, like Linda Montano’s performances of everyday life. So, I would say it’s taking a really simplistic aspect, like the last performance was about trash, and wanting to take the emotional aspect of being so angry at myself, the culture, the experiences of being raised within this wasteful madness, and having explosive emotional responses through performance with a little bit of butoh. I think that creates such drama and in contemporary performance is everywhere, aspects of butoh are everywhere. It’s a good dramatic tool in performance.

I wouldn’t say I think only in terms of performance. I think much more in terms of color and costume. But, performance is the experience to help yourself grow through ritual, through tackling your own emotions or what’s happening in society. To work through it consciously.

Anna-Hafner-photo- Eliot-o-clair-Vermillion-the-dragon (a private commissioned costume and performance) 2017

Anna Hafner, Vermilion the Dragon (2017). Costume.
Photo: Eliot O’Clair, courtesy of the artist

D: So, when you put on your costumes, do you take on aspects of these characters?

A: No, I think it’s more being truly myself when I put on costumes. It’s not playing pretend, but feeling really free. To some degree you do take on another aspect of a character, but I see it as another aspect of the self.

D: You said you respond more to costume and color. Can you explain that more?

A: I was luckily brought up with a lot of love and support in that aspect of my personality, and that’s what developed. It’s elevating yourself to another experience, and I think it’s beautiful.

D: What I like about using costumes is I feel like it gives you a license to do whatever you want.

A: Agreed! That’s why I like it too!

Anna-Hafner-The-Green-Bunny-created-2016, photo by the artist 2017

Anna Hafner, The Green Bunny (2016). Costume.
Photo: by the artist, Courtesy of the artist


D: Like, you’re not fixed to this one identity with a personal history. The same can be said with everyday clothing and makeup as well.

A: Exactly, because you’re not fixed to one identity. That’s why this is my practice, because being fixed to one identity can be depressing, it’s constrictive, it’s not expansive. It’s like putting on a mask or armor and you move away from the person you were imprinted to be through your parents. It’s freeing yourself. Being able to be free with your identity whether it’s through gender expression, through fashion, through how you live your life…

D: Yeah, we live in this world where you’re being constantly told who you are, what you can do, what your role in society is, or what you should be doing because you’re a certain sex or gender, or come from a certain background…

Ann-Hafner-Photo-Brad Walsh-Waste Witch (a performance) 2017

Anna Hafner, Waste Witch (2017). Performance. Kingston, New York.
Photo: Brad Walsh, Courtesy of the artist

A: When in reality, you have the ability to transcend all of that. The nature of the universe is change. We are afraid of change as if we are losing something, and it’s like, no, that’s the key to freedom.

D: We’ve been skirting around this idea, but how is exploring identity important to your work?

A: I think it’s central to my life experience, the experiences I have had with the people close to me, and then within my art work, identity is the core of my exploration. Like, even if I present as femme or this cis role, I feel like I have have put on different outfits, that is always how I feel, looking at how are people perceiving me this way. I started to care less or be a little more distant as I’ve gotten more into costumery. But identity is central, or at least it has been central. I feel it is starting to shift now because I’ve gotten more comfortable with the idea that my identity is fluid, and I’m very happy with that.

Anna-Hafner-The Divine Feminine (a performance) 2016, photo Siobhan Schneidman

Anna Hafner, The Divine Feminine (2016). Performance. Kingston, New York.
Photo: Siobhan Schneidman, Courtesy of the artist