Behind this laughing mask of mine.
Firstly, I would like to apologies to my audience with regards to my artistic project, for I am asking you to interpret my images as I see them. To be seen to represent an invisible metaphor for the political identity of self, but a photograph is not a literal document, and it must be read and interpreted in context to the idea for which it was created, but this reading may produce other interpretations: The viewer must work to complete the photography by digging into what it suggests and endowing it with deeper insights: the photograph is the “moment where my language finishes and yours starts.” Every image, Peress has said, has four authors: the photographer, the camera, the viewer, and reality. But it is reality, he insists that “has a way of speaking the loudest’: that speaks, in fact, “with a vengeance.” (Linfield, 2012, pp. 238). Thank you.
In the politics of self we put up a ‘front’ to others, this ‘front’ is a sort of mask to our identity, it protects as well as projects, and we change masks depending on who our audience is. Each mask we wear is only a fragment of the whole that makes up our identity, and each mask is made up of countless combinations of those fragments, and we will wear countless variation of masks throughout our lifetime. Try and remove the mask, and you risk damaging your soul. Sense the importance of changing the mask every day. (Hall, 2012, Loc 4054).
As I write this, I find myself in the middle of a world flu pandemic that has already claimed hundreds of thousands of lives and is causing countries to lockdown, preventing travel and closing schools and business’ in order to slow down and stop the spread of the infection. Masks have become the new, mandatory accessory, to wear when out and about in public places, such as shops. Friends and families have been split apart to avoid passing on the infection and employees furloughed from work if the work is non-essential and they have become isolated in their homes. …The use of masks now came to symbolise the alienating and repressive condition of modern society, with its superficiality, materialism and pressure to conform. Courbet, in a letter of 1854 to Alfrd Bruyas, famously said, ‘Behind this laughing mask of mine which you know, I conceal grief bitterness, and a sadness which clings to my heart like a vampire. In the society in which we live, it doesn’t take much to reach the void’. A similar point is made in Baudelaire’s ‘Le Masque” (1859), a poem included in Les Fleurs du mal. Nietzsche, in Beyond Good and Evil (1888), insisted that, ‘every profound spirit needs a mask’… …’even more, around every profound spirit a mask is growing continually, owing to the constantly false, namely shallow, interpretation of every word, every step, every sign of life he gives’.(Basic Writings of Nietzsche, trans. W. Kaufmann, New York, 1968, #40, pp. 240-1) (Hall, 2015, Loc 3901, 3910).
I have wanted to explore this idea of a ‘front’ that we use in the politics of self, and I felt that the current requirement to wear a physical mask was an ideal opportunity to use masks as a visible metaphor to the normally unseen masks that we wear for our identity to others. The masks that we are forced to wear has changed the dynamics, our expressions are hidden and we sometimes fail to recognise each other in the street. But something else has happened. Fashion companies have made decorated and ‘designer’ masks and many people have chosen to buy and wear this sort of mask in preference to the cheap medical masks. This is a symbol of people trying to claim their identity back and project it through this new prosthetic to their audience.
For my project, I asked volunteers to send me selfies from their places of isolation, using any masks of their choice, and I asked them to suggest a celebrity or famous personality that they identify themselves with, or would like to be identified with, and would be happy to use the image of that person as a mask for themselves. I believe that our identity is influenced by others, as well as our own lived experiences, and these elements colour the masks we wear. Therefore, the masks that my subjects choose to wear say something about themselves. Stephen Greenblatt coined the term ‘self-fashioning’ to describe what he saw as the necessarily ‘theatrical’ way in which Renaissance courtiers had to operate at court, adopting behavioural ‘masks’ to conceal their feelings. It was an elaborate attempt to export post-Nietzschean masking culture far back into history. Greenblatt claimed the Castiglione’s great conduct book, The Courtier, ‘portrays a world in which social frictions, sexual combat, and power are all carefully masked by the fiction of elegant otium (leisure). (Hall, 2012, Loc 4515). Just as Greenblatt suggests, I believe that our ‘front’ is always presented as a self-fashioning mask, and I have tried to express this idea through my project.