When masks reveal | MIT News

A Covid-19 mask is normally viewed as a variety of security. But what if our masks turned chances for publicity — the bodily expression of our views, preoccupations, and the way we relate to the turbulence of the outside the house earth?

That was the challenge faced by MIT undergraduate pupils assigned to design a mask that reflected individual and collective experiences all through the pandemic. As portion of the interdisciplinary class 4.302 (Foundations in Art, Layout and Spatial Methods: Layout and Scarcity), operate by the MIT Long run Heritage Lab and the MIT Plan in Art, Lifestyle and Technological know-how (ACT), the assignment was motivated by the international Co-MASK project initiated by the course’s professor, Azra Akšamija, a school member in the Department of Architecture. While Co-MASK focuses on building do-it-on your own cloth deal with-coverings for safety from Covid-19, the pupils had been encouraged to envisage a mask that would provide as a physical extension of the brain and the overall body — a internet site of exchange and a way of relating to a larger sized community.

The own and the planetary

The “Design and Scarcity” training course introduces theoretical and useful applications for artwork and layout in fragile environments — an expression of the ethos of ACT, which highlights the great importance of inventive techniques for experimental trouble-solving and demanding crucial apply. Supported by the MIT Alumni Class Fund for undergraduate curriculum, this class was produced by Akšamija as the household edition of her Design & Shortage MITx program, the 1st on the web palms-on art and structure study course at MIT. 

The learners interpreted the plan of fragility in varied means. Although reflecting on own ordeals of isolation in the course of the pandemic, the method of building the masks became a signifies of empathically connecting with up to date world-wide actions and shared traumas. In their engagement with difficulties these as racial discrimination, migrant exploitation, and ecological damage, the masks are manifestations of the problems that pervade the scholar knowledge and their priorities as designers. The challenge addresses the fragility of environments at several scales from the individual to the political to the planetary — and correct down to the scale of the virus by itself, which is simultaneously battling for its possess survival.

This expansive scope mirrors the aspirations of the Co-MASK challenge, which is supposed to be borderless and multilingual. “The Co-MASK types established by the college students indicate one of the central wants that Covid-19 pandemic designed apparent for us all,” suggests Akšamija. “That we — people and non-humans — have to have to come with each other in a new way and reveal solidarity with the most susceptible in our planetary group.”

Reinterpreting shelter

The do the job of a number of of the learners engages critically with the concern of shelter and the security of individuals and communities.

“American Aspiration,” a mask created by Diego Yañez-Laguna, a next-12 months undergraduate artwork and design and style important, addresses the plight of migrants held at borders. “The intention of this mask is to show how the immigrant expertise in the United States is considerably from the American Dream,” explains Yañez-Laguna. “That message of opportunity and welcome is represented by visual references to the Statue of Liberty — but the corruption of these beliefs is shown by way of the use of barbed wire, which signifies a history of mistreatment, scare methods against migrants, and an obsession with borders and division.”

Caleb Amanfu, a fourth-yr undergraduate double-majoring in architecture and mechanical engineering, chose to use a bandage as the most important substance for his mask, “Seen” — a illustration of societal repression. “This mask is hoping to phone to interest the feeling of remaining witnessed and not listened to even though contacting into problem the units and societal situations that cause those encounters to persist,” states Amanfu. “This mask, like the devices by themselves, is protecting against the user from talking up even though at the same time ‘suffocating’ them under the complications they are seeking to discuss out versus.”

For Janice Tjan, a third-calendar year undergraduate double-majoring in mechanical engineering and art and layout, the undertaking was an opportunity to give voice to the experiences of homeless youngsters all through the pandemic. “Blazon Mask” is built to deliver the inside of out, delivering a site for the wearer to self-advocate and exhibit their anxieties. “The contrasting shades, rudimentary stitching, and scout-like badges contribute to a loud glimpse and a youthful mindset,” claims Tjan. “These masks are manufactured from recycled cotton fabric (outdated T-shirts and bedsheets), which provides to their bricolage appearance and amplifies the inventive voice of the maker.”

Intellect and materials

The pupils ended up tasked with investigating the social, environmental, and technological implications of precise components — components that also made available an outlet for psychological expression.  

Felix Li, a next-calendar year undergraduate artwork and structure significant, titled his mask “Resonant when Struck,” evoking equally the materiality of porcelain and the seem of breakage. “For as extensive as I can try to remember,” he claims, “I’ve utilised the exact same set of affordable Chinese grocery store porcelain bowls and plates. These fragile but powerful ceramic vessels are a monument to my heritage, my mother and father, my Asian id. The shattered and scattered form reflects the collective agony and grief across the AAPI [Asian American and Pacific Islander] group.”

Eva Smerekanych, a second-12 months undergraduate architecture major, sculpted her mask, “Clean,” from polymer clay to depict how ingesting ailments might be exacerbated during a period of time of isolation. “Polymer clay is a comfortable, waxy medium with the distinctive trait of remaining malleable in excess of prolonged intervals of time,” she says. “As these kinds of, this medium provokes a perception of uncertainty about the long run. Will it crack? Will it get warped? Squished? Stretched? This uncertainty mirrors the uncertainty that triggers quite a few to produce having diseases.”

The guiding concept of scarcity prompted several to investigate the environmental cost of their selected substance, a position powerfully communicated by “Ocean Blues,” a mask designed by Izzi Waitz, a 2nd-year undergraduate architecture important. Made by knitting collectively 10 solitary-use synthetic blue masks, her mask evokes the sight of plastic caught in a fishing internet. “An abundance of masks, gloves, hand-sanitizer bottles, and other sorts of Covid squander are pouring into our oceans and landfills,” says Waitz. “These synthetic materials, with a lifespan of 450 several years, pose a huge menace to marine daily life.”

Open up futures

The students’ masks reveal how an inventive setting for investigation and studying can broaden regular techniques to layout. The lifestyle of experimentation fostered by ACT opens new ways of confronting modern day crucial troubles — but it also makes area for individual expressions of fragility and vulnerability, feelings which can be the source of transformative creativity.

The project’s negotiation involving the community and the private will be even further amplified at the 17th Intercontinental Architecture Exhibition Venice Architecture Biennale 2021, exactly where the masks of Akšamija and her students will be on watch in the “Upcoming Assembly” collective exhibition in the Central Pavilion in the Giardini. The Future Assembly is a reflection on the past 75 years of UN multilateralism, inviting Biennale contributors to envisage new ways to impactful collaboration, and to visualize how a long term multilateralism can broaden over and above the human-centric worldview to come to be a more-than-human assembly. 

As a single of this year’s exhibitors, Akšamija invited her students to portray the Covid-19 virus as a stakeholder in the Foreseeable future Assembly. Provided the actuality that the virus survives and mutates via human transmission, the sort of the mask signifies a shelter for human beings and a menace to the virus’ survival. Still the masks made by the learners also specific the instinctual requirements that the pandemic has made so obvious: the necessity for strength, inspiration, and hope for the long term at a time that calls for resilience and resourcefulness. By redefining the personalized in conditions of the collective, these masks reveal the central paradox of the pandemic: the virus that divides us has also exposed the point of our infinite interconnection.