Forward by Aaron Gray
Whoever we are, wherever we find ourselves, and as each of us is overwhelmed with million different narratives flickering in front of our eyes and though our myriad screens, one aesthetic element of our new age is constant and consistent: the mask.
Nothing on the horizon to augur anything that will return us to the realm of ‘normalcy.’
Enveloped and entangled in our collective imagination as the core signifier of reality under black lives matter, quarantine and social distancing, the newfound ubiquity of mask is inauspicious at best. Morbid at worse.
Whether donned by an essential worker or someone in a march, masks represent how drastically a series of events has radically altered our patterns and rhythms of life. You probably can’t leave your home without seeing a mask, without being reminded how fragile the routines, schedules, ways of beings we grew so accustomed to are. Like tears, in rain.
Masks have always been inextricable from our encounters with the unknown. They were written into the earliest histories and their presence in human affairs has not yet since abated. Masks have protected the earliest iterations of mechanized infantry against the horrors of biological warfare, acted a means to contact higher planes of spiritual existence, protected privacy in the face of digitally sophisticated surveillance states, and even as served as metaphor through which to understand a designer’s vision to fundamentally reimagine the relationship between beauty and commerce, the distance between designer and object.
In our current circumstances, the use of a mask does not enjoy such specificity in time and space. Masks have been elevated from things one uses into things that simply are.
The unknown that we collectively face is a pace of events that is outstripping the movement of our institutions and the understanding of our leaders. The ways in which we previously structured our relationship to the future are collapsing. Feelings of malaise and persistent agitation are normal. Each of us is testing new ways to express love, respect, interest, boredom, honesty, intimacy, and encouragement from a distance—and behind a mask.
As the world around us stops making sense and is mired in uncertainty, there is one constant: ourselves. The memories we ruminate upon and revisit. The meanings we manufacture. Our relationship to time is changing, but time is still passing. There is a new urgency to fundamental questions we all ask of ourselves. Who is it is that we are? What is it is that we came for?
The Greek myth of Sisyphus saw a man condemned to push a boulder up a hill for all eternity as punishment for offending the Gods. The classic existential parable used this as its central metaphor for the human condition; doomed to a singular, inescapable, futile fate. But in this allegory, they also saw indefatigable hope.
With an understanding and acknowledgement of his condition, Sisyphus becomes a hero. In the very act of reflecting upon—and accepting—the truth of his condition, a hero is born. One must imagine Sisyphus happy. And masked up.