Costumes that take you into a new dimension: the fine art of cosplay
Costume maker and cosplay artist Abby Jameson returned to Blenheim at the weekend to teach a workshop on costume design and, wait for it, 'Worbla'. Arts reporter David James caught up with Abby to find out just what Worbla was and how the cosplay subculture in New Zealand is going pop.
Man is least himself when he talks in his own person. Give him a mask, and he will tell you the truth." – Oscar Wilde.
Some have said that Oscar Wilde's quote is about anonymity and our desire to conceal ourselves in order to be ourselves. While others have said that Wilde's quote points to the fundamental qualities of who we are – which is always changing and shifting. Others' like the photographer Bill Cunningham would say that we dress in a costume every day, because our outer appearance is like an armour for the world; we are all a part of a large existential role-playing game, for which we are all characters.
For other talented folk, like the super gifted, Blenheim-born costume designer and cosplay artist, Abby Jameson, 29, masks and armour are all just part of what she does. Abby has been working in cosplay for 14 years, and like any art form, it's a passion.
Abby visited her hometown at the weekend for an exclusive workshop at the John St cafe Joocy Lucy to teach other locals the fine art of costume design and construction.
"A lot of people who are interested in making costumes will get help from the cosplay community. There's a lot of support for anyone who is motivated to try and learn costume making. Some people might feel intimidated at first trying to get into this, but we are big old mixed bag and the community is wide ranging. We just like to have fun, really, doing what we love."
If you didn't already know it, cosplay has its own culture and community which is thriving in New Zealand. There are 5000 members on the NZ Cosplay Facebook page alone, with cosplay artists and fans varying in age and profession.
But what is cosplay, exactly? I guess you could say that cosplay is type of performance art, but it has its roots in Renaissance-era masquerade balls and Japanese Kabuki theatre. It is merely an abbreviated term for 'costume play', and for a lot of those who do work in the area of cosplay, they design costumes based on fictional and mythical characters for people to adorn.
The earlier work and inspiration for cosplay comes from science fiction films, Japanese anime and video games, and you may have noticed a fair bit of cosplay activity going on at conventions, such as Comic-Con, in the United States or at the Armageddon Expos here in New Zealand.
For Abby, cosplay was like a calling and she prefers to wear her own constructions.
"I was a typical obsessed teenager and child, who happened to like Japanese anime. Since then I've moved towards styling more Western-type characters, but I still am inspired by Japanese characters and video games. It's all gotten a little more eccentric as I've gotten older," she laughs.
Abby has won two Best in Show Regional Winner prizes at the Armageddon Expo in Wellington for her costumes. But for her, it's all about the love of cosplay and not the accolades. Abby now lives in Wellington, the film-making capital of New Zealand. But she says she's not interested in working for Weta Workshop just yet.
"I wouldn't like to make costumes as a regular job - that would bore me. I just love doing this for me.
"This work excites me: trying to figure how to make something. There's no particular one style that I keep to in my work. I pretty much get my inspiration off of a fictional character. And it's usually any one character that I like the look of, and something that is going to challenge me."
Abby says it can be an expensive hobby, but she recycles a lot of material. Budgets and availability can also lead to greater creativity.
"I don't really think about the cost. I just do a little bit at a time. But I did once buy 14 kilos of foam off-cuts for making armour, which ended up lasting me four years.
"When I'm passionate about doing something I will get it done."
Nowadays, Abby prefers to use Worbla, a thermodynamic resin that can be shaped using a heated air gun. Worbla – named for a former synthetics manufacturer in Worblaufen, Switzerland - can be moulded into objects for costume construction, and other costume designers have used it for armour, horns, hooves, swords and even footwear. The workshop here in Blenheim focused mainly on introducing students to the material with the intention of getting them to build something of their own.
"In these introduction classes I am teaching the basics of how to use Worbla; the basics of prepping it and painting it. But with Worbla, you can pretty much shape it into anything you want."
It turns out this won't be the first and only classes that Abby will be teaching.
"I will be back to do more workshops in future, the interest is there and it's a reason for those who are interested in cosplay to come together and feel a part of something and share ideas."
- The Marlborough Express