Category Archives: Aesthetic Theory

Tutti piani

 

Welcome to my first blog from Italia. In short, it’s amazing! The study is engrossing, the people wonderful, a wine costs just a couple euro.Because of difficultly in previous years of the workshop, we aren’t allowed to take many pictures during the workshop, so instead of lots of mask process photos, you’ll enjoy shots of everyday life, gorgeous scenery, and lovely people. I’m sharing a flat for the month with another student from New York, and across the hall are wonderful artists from Firenze and Toronto. There are also more students from Italy, Spain, Mexico and the US.

<INTERPOLATION> Why do cities names changes in different languages?  As in, why do we call Firenze “Florence”? It’s a proper name, not a random vocabulary word. Or  why do we call Venezia, “Venice”?or  Deutschland ,”Germany”? or Nippon “Japan”? I can imagine changing the spelling in your language to make the same sounds, but actually changing the name? It makes more sense to me to call places what they call themselves, but that’s not how languages and culture work apparently. Or is it? After briefly searching the internet, the reason for difference between endonyms (what you call yourself) and exonyms (what others call you) often stem from the evolution of language itself.  Firenze is the Italian derivation of the Latin Florentia, but Florence was the English derivation, and Florenz the German. So maybe we did try the spelling trick way back when, but the world changed and language didn’t. Still, why can’t we be on the same page about this?  </INTERPOLATION>

As I said, the work is interesting and challenging. There is often an interpreter, and when there is not, many  of the students are multilingual—so the ideas aren’t too difficult to grasp.  You can really see and feel the inheritance of trained sculptors in this work. It’s not just actors who make masks—it’s artists who bring their knowledge of materials, sculpting tools and processes and strong visual arts skills and concepts to the work of theatrical mask.

We have been doing studies in preparation for making  of the leather mask. The traditional forms didn’t use paint to help augment the shaping of light and form. Instead, they rely on the sculpting of panes in the mask to give a sense of volume and life to the performance object.

 

 

I find it really interesting to consider this idea. The planes reflect light. And the abstraction of the forms of a face into simpler planes also helps us project our own experience on to the mask. Puppets can work in much the same way. In Understanding Comics, the artist Scott McCloud noted that as a face is rendered in increasingly specific detail, the easier it is to regard that face as something outside of ourselves. But as a face is simplified in its depiction, the easier it is for the viewer to regard it with a feeling of identification… it becomes more of an Everyperson.

So with these simplified planes, perhaps it becomes more possible for the actor and the audience, together, bring the object to life.

 

Christo’s Floating Piers at Lago d’Iseo— a mask of space?

 

 

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Face Hacking

What makes a mask a mask? How does a change in technology affect this ancient practice of transformation? I stumbled upon this video on Facebook. It’s pretty interesting what they are doing. In one respect, it’s a live-time version of makeup—the face is decorated with moving images, but the dimensions of the face are not altered as they would be when wearing a physical mask.


Later, I looked around for more information. I found another blogger’s article here. Text below is reprinted from that post.

“On a Christmas episode of Fuji Television’s SMAP X SMAP, two members of the J-pop boy band SMAP (Shingo Katori and Tsuyoshi Kusanagi) were used to demonstrate just how close we are to the next level of using these type of “laser” projectors in an entertainment venue. Both members had little round nodules placed at strategic points on their face to allow for a motion-tracking software program to follow their movement and adjust for the beams of light to “colour” their face in a wide-variety of ways. In one moment they would look like a Transformer and in another, they are cat-like aliens in disguise. Shingo and Tsuyoshi-san wore real make-up to help highlight their facial structures and to act like a reflective canvas medium for the lights to sculpt their faces into truly alien forms. To note, they had to close their eyes during the demonstration.”

What do you think? Is it a mask, or something else?

Packing it all in

As I write this blog tonight, I am sitting in the airport in San Francisco, waiting for about 2 1/2 hours before my almost 24 hour flight to Bali (via Taipei).  Wow! That’s a long time.

Perks ready to mail! (No one got to pick their own nose.)
Perks ready to mail! (No one got to pick their own nose.)

I’ve been up to a lot over the past few weeks. I celebrated the holidays. I wrapped up some projects at Oregon Children’s Theatre. I got all of my noses and masks that people earned as perks packed and mailed.

My boyfriend double checked my packing.  He made sure I had enough bags, he advised on packing strategy, and he even took the time to count the tiles in my newly acquired vintage travel version of Scrabble. ( I was missing and “e” or two, as well as an “s”). He also had me photograph all I was taking. He is a good man, and thorough.

My
My
Pack
Pack
List
List

Next Up: San Francisco! I returned to  this lovely city for a few days before  my flight to Bali.  Upon recommendation of the guy next to me on the airplane, I went to see the David Hockney exhibit at the de Young Museum in Golden Gate Park.  He had many beautiful drawings, paintings and videos exploring the same location in England over all the seasons of the year. There were also numerous portraits throughout the show. Some of his drawings were aided by the use of the camera lucida, which Hockney theorizes was one of the technological aids that helped the old Masters paint such realistic portraits (read more on that here).

Mr. Hockney provides the side-by-side comparisons of his use of the camera lucida to that of drawings by Ingres.
Mr. Hockney provides the side-by-side comparisons of his use of the camera lucida to that of drawings by Ingres.

This experience reminded me a bit of one of my favorite books about comics, Understanding Comics by Scott McCloud.  In this book, McCloud writes a lot about how meaning and story are constructed through the juxtaposition of images– and furthermore, about how the human brain understands these images.  He connects this to the role of abstraction in art.

For example, McCloud asserts that when we see the faces of others, we see all the details—and those details help us discern the faces as unique and individual. However, when we think of our own faces, we rarely think of the details, but instead stick with a general sense of placement: my mouth is about here… my eyes are basically there… etc.

From Understanding Comics, © Scott McCloud
From Understanding Comics, © Scott McCloud

I have often found this true with abstract  or simple masks, or with puppets. The audience adds a lot to the performance when given a simple shape vs lots of details. Both ideas are quite interesting to pursue, and I have used both aspects of this principle in my work.

Humans seem to have difficulty not seeing faces. We project our experience everywhere, making faces wherever we go. To wit, here are some pics from trip in the Bay area this weekend.

Some sinks show surprise naturally.
Some sinks show surprise naturally.
An electrical socket charged with surprise and ...fear?
An electrical socket charged with surprise and …fear?

And now it is time to take flight to Bali!