On Monday, April 13th 2020, the Pan-European art project MASKS will start with a first series of simultaneous internet presences - initially in Germany, Italy, France, Scotland and Greece. At the centre of the networking of creative people from the fields of painting, graphics, photography, music and literature is the image of the mask in the times of the worldwide Corona pandemic.
Every single artistic genre has proved early and thoroughly that art is particularly suited to explore our relationship to non-human matter. For example, the Renaissance composer Orlando di Lasso put animals at the centre of the musical performance in some of his a cappella pieces. From a satirical, political and moral point of view, he presented them as beings equal to man. Legendary is the description of the ascent of the Provençal Mont Ventoux in April 1336, with which Francesco Petrarca first put the human experience of nature at the centre of a literary work. In painting, Giorgione removed the landscape at the beginning of the 16th century from its traditional secondary role of background motif. In his painting „The Thunderstorm" it is closely related to the depicted human figures as an indispensable part of the psychological message of the picture. With the advent of plein-air painting, landscape was later elevated to an explicit theme - a viewpoint that was adopted in particular by the European artists' colonies that had been established in the first half of the 19th century.
Especially in this time of the Corona crisis we need an art that depicts the interlocking of organisms. An art that exposes human egocentrism as vain self-deception. Because still and again we humans run the risk of forgetting that the environment is not only formed by us, but also by other organisms. Our bodies are not closed systems, separated from our environment, but open-pored. The mixing of non-human, human, synthetic and natural matter is a reality.
MASKS demonstrates solidarity.
Artists also move in this reality, as inhabitants of villages, cities, countries, which are afflicted by the disease covid 19. Neighbours, acquaintances and fellow citizens are infected, fall ill and die. From the midst of these societies, they document their solidarity with works relating to the pandemic. We are all connected with the people affected by the disease, with the infected, the sick and their helpers, who are going to the edge of their resilience for all of us. For the protection of other people, out of love for others and thus also for ourselves, we have gotten into the habit of wearing protective masks. In this way we take care of what is dear to us: our health and that of others. Those who show less face in these times out of love for themselves and others show „more face" and caring connectedness in this moment. The importance of the mask in the pandemic is not limited to health aspects. Therefore MASKS shows people who wear masks.
MASKS backgrounds the image of the mask.
However, the horror images triggered by Covid 19 threaten to reduce the significance of the mask to the protective aspect. A medical protective mask can protect against infection, it has become vital. It is not clear whether all people in Europe will soon be able to cover their faces, nor is it clear to what extent filterless orbital masks will protect against droplet infection. They let viruses in, but less out. Many people put their hands in their faces unnoticed every day. The mask helps to remember not to do this. The violence of the pandemic, however, causes the broad spectrum of meaning of the mask to be lost from view. A mask is much more than just an instrument that protects us and others, behind which we can hide. Not all masks in human cultural history refer to hospital and shortness of breath. Since time immemorial, the mask has functioned as a ritual means, religious statement or disguise, and puts the wearer of the mask in the centre of attention. Throughout the long history of mankind, masks have been used in ritual dances to scare off spirits or worship protective deities. Death masks have been known since ancient times. The masks used in the ancient Greek theatre represent emotional states. The masks of the Commedia dell'arte opened up possibilities of social interpretation for the audience. These examples show that masks make a facial expression visible, recognizable. People wearing masks are seen and recognized.
MASKS proves that we are alive and continue to deal with the crisis.
Art is also an act of social commitment. The invisible viruses have occupied us with all their materiality. They clearly show us the fragility of the order conceived by man. MASKS encourages people to actively deal with the fears and traumas that now afflict many people. Even in times of crisis, life goes on. Artists create a testimony of these difficult months. They offer examples of materialized answers in word, image, sound and imagination. The works of art that MASKS shows are like letters, postcards, business cards, sent out of isolation to the outside world.
MASKS is a European initiative.
Social isolation prevents direct cooperation, regardless of how close or far apart we live and work. It no longer matters whether you live in the same place or in another country. Today, all people in this world are equally affected by the restrictions. Through the art project MASKS, artists can show that they are nevertheless in contact with each other, that they stand by each other and work together - even if they are not allowed to meet physically. The connection among the artists crosses all national borders, which have now been largely closed. The MASKS initiative represents the European idea by promoting greater cultural understanding and cooperation in the European context.
MASKS offers the possibility to find an audience even without live exhibitions.
Without an audience, art and the services associated with it cannot be sold. The exit restrictions have turned studios into hermitages, and planned exhibitions have been cancelled. But artists need an audience in order to survive. Networking and the attempt to jointly bring art projects to the public increases the chances of reaching an audience.
MASKS: the virtual exhibition is shown simultaneously on several websites in several European countries. The websites of the German painter Gerd Lepic and the French photographer Eric Schaftlein offer an introduction to this networking. As part of the masks art project, they are showing photographs of the participating artists wearing their personal masks. The pictures are accompanied by contact details that refer to the websites of the respective artists.