Getting to Know Studio Artist-in-Residence Mimi Haddon

August 1, 2019 10:12 AM
by Myki Arntson

Mimi Haddon and her masked characters

Mimi Haddon is a Studio Artist-in-Residence at the Camera Obscura August 7 – November 13, 2019. She is a photographer and sculptor who uses elements of mask, costume and movement in her art practice. During her time at the Camera Obscura, she is creating photographs where she asks members of the public to pose in costume and wearable sculpture, with the resulting characters embodying emotions and ideas. These photographs will be part a book she is creating and are featured in her culminating exhibition at the Camera Obscura on November 9, 2019

We spoke to Mimi about her background in costuming and photography, and her plans for the Camera Obscura residency.  

What drew you to costume – was it before or after photography?  

Photography came first. I had a love of fashion photography but was not very interested in that world.  I found that through costume and photography I could invent narrative that spoke to me.  In 2007 I was lucky enough to be introduced to Palace Costume, which is a vintage clothing and costume rental company in West Hollywood. I was immediately enamored with the collection and found that I could rent one interesting piece from them and create an entire story out of it.  I was shooting for Getty Images at the time and began making my own costumes for shoots that I art directed and photographed.    

Mimi at work with dancers Katherine Helen Fisher and Catie Cuan, photo by Shimmy Boyle 

In 2010 I visited the Fowler Museum with a friend and was introduced to the work of Nick Cave. The show, "Meet Me at the Center of The Earth" left me gobsmacked! I did not know exactly what I had seen, but I knew it was a vocabulary that I wanted to explore. I also studied the fashions of the Harajuku District in Tokyo through the book Fruits by Shoichi Aoki. I was blown away by the way in which that youth culture expressed their creativity through clothing. I began seeing the potential in everyday objects and garments to become costume and art. In 2014 I began my MFA in Fiber Art at CSULB. I wanted to learn more about how to use textiles and other media as sculpture. There I learned about the work of Charles Freger and his book Wilder Mann, and Phylis Galembo's Maske. These foundational texts inspired me to continue learning handcraft traditions, which I now use with a contemporary spin for my soft sculpture and costume work. 

Mimi with monumental tulle

What do you want to accomplish working with participants at the Camera Obscura?  

I want to share my passion for storytelling through costume and props.  I was born and raised in Southern California and found that my upbringing completely lacked in community and ritual.  It made me interested in finding ways to ignite connection and conversation through collective craft. I want to take this idea a step further and find ways in which we can temporarily alter our sense of self, and create a space of exploration where a group can become a "self," or a collective, and “selves” can be exchanged or transmuted, through the use of common materials.  In addition to these craft activities I’ll be leading sessions where we’ll create a group dance – building up from simple gestures.  We'll explore nonverbal communication as a way to express ourselves, and I look forward to this group work as a way of opening our eyes to the possibilities of deeper connection. 

From Mimi Haddon’s “The Palace Wild” series

Tell us more about your Palace Costume book, and your plans for the Camera Obscura project book?  

For the past four years I have been working on documenting the vast collection of vintage clothing and garments at Palace Costume.  I began the project while I was working on my MFA and I would go in one a week and photograph the most interesting pieces flat, on white.  I wanted the images to be only about the clothing and thought that by putting them on a person, they would be automatically connected to gender, culture, age and era.  I did this for 3 years and have a vast collection of images.  Then last October I began the series that I am currently working on, “The Palace Wild.”  This series was inspired by the work of Jane Bennet in her book, Vibrant Matter.  After spending so much time intimately working with the clothing, I began sensing the life found within each garment.  While the rows and rows of clothing appear lifeless during the day, I started to imagine what sort of characters they might create in a sort of whirling dance of textiles, after the lights went out.  I began collaborating with incredible dancers and friends including Heidi Duckler Dance and through these mobile soft sculptures we've created an incredible pantheon of characters and archetypes. My hope is to have this book published by 2020. 

My plans for the Camera Obscura Book will be to document the participants in masks and costumes.  This ties back into the idea of reinvention of 'self'.  What I would like to show is the connection that a community can form through costume and craft. 

Mimi Haddon's Interventions in Public Space  

How does repurposing and upcycling serve your work? 

I started repurposing t-shirts when I was teaching at summer camps for elementary school children.  I think it's pretty exciting to see how far one can take the transformation of an everyday object.  While working on my MFA I decided to work with t-shirts on a larger, sculptural scale.  I purchased 200 + shirts, many of them brand new or only worn once for an event, from Goodwill on Santa Monica Blvd.  I treated the t-shirt as a raw material.  I dissected each piece and put like parts with like parts, in essence creating a new vocabulary of meaning for the components.  I found ways to assemble like parts together to form a unit and was beyond thrilled to witness the birth of odd forms. 

Now I teach at FIDM and shop their special Scholarship Store regularly looking for post industrial discards. I also work often with Berkeley Ergonomics, a wonderful Organic mattress company in Ontario, CA. They give me excess wool that I use for stuffing in my soft sculptures.   

From Mimi Haddon’s “Talmasque” series

What is an archetype to you? 

For me, an archetype is a teacher or a guide.  An entity that one can look to for self-reflection and a global perspective. 

Mimi Haddon uses fiber sculpture as a tool to explore archetypes. She prefers to show her work outside of gallery walls and in unexpected locations, and enjoys the freedom of responding to spaces not normally reserved for artistically charged notions. Through her use of color, light and awkward body references, she infuses a sense of humor into her creature-like sculptures. Since graduating with her MFA from Otis College of Art & Design in Fiber Art, she has collaborated with Heidi Duckler Dance Company, creating costumes and soft sculptures for their site-specific performances. She is currently working on a coffee table book about Palace Costume Company, one of the largest costume rental houses in Los Angeles. For her residency, she is considering ideas of adaptation and territory, utilizing mask, costume and movement in her public events. She is documenting the archetypes and characters that participants create in response to transformative costuming, and will include selected portraits in a book about the newly forged narratives and connections that emerge out of this process. 

Camera Obscura Art Lab offers arts, crafts and culture classes year-round. Polish your writing, take a better picture, learn how to make paper, knit, sew, and find a community of artists and movers! Weekly hangouts with artists through our ongoing studio residency program as well as workshops and one-off experiences bring insight into a variety of artistic work. Our community practice space offers room for you to develop your own creativity and learn from others. It all happens at 1450 Ocean Avenue in Palisades Park, where our mid-century building houses the iconic Camera Obscura mechanism and offers lovely views of the ocean, steps from the entrance to the Santa Monica Pier. Visit or check our current list of events. 

Camera Obscura Art Lab is a program of Santa Monica Cultural Affairs 

About Santa Monica Cultural Affairs 

Santa Monica Cultural Affairs brings the City’s art scene to life for residents and visitors each year by supporting engaging and accessible cultural events for all ages throughout the year. Cultural Affairs nurtures local arts organizations, promotes artist involvement in the community, manages the landmark Santa Monica Civic Auditorium and presents and produces innovative programs citywide at the Annenberg Community Beach House, the historic Miles Playhouse, Camera Obscura Art Lab and in the city’s parks, enriching Santa Monica’s reputation as an international cultural destination.  | #ArtSaMo 

Authored By

Myki Arntson
Guest Services Assistant