I had the pleasure of attending The Lab recently, where in the midst of some great experiments into being human, we explored working with masks.
If you have seen the excellent ventriloquist comedian Nina Conti you will know part of her act involves applying a partial mask to an audience member. Nina then controls the mouth parts with a remote, so that the individual seems to be agreeing to do something outrageous, or says something inappropriate, even though their body language suggests horror, or disagreement, at the prospect.
It is a clever representation of the power of a mask. The act demonstrates a freedom and what can be possible if we don’t feel seen, whilst juxtaposing the obvious visibility of the individual’s body squirming at what they are saying, through Nina. Simultaneously, the act allows Nina, as the ventriloquist, to say and do things she might never do herself.
In our Lab experiment we saw people assuming the whole character, mannerisms, language, opinions of their ‘character behind the mask’.
A mask, in a sense, gives us permission to be someone else. To reveal a part of ourselves we may normally keep subdued or hidden. It also gives us permission to conceal ourselves behind the mask. Be it gender, ethnicity, geographic origin. We sometimes use non-visual masks too. Hiding behind our organisational or societal status or role.
I wonder what we are capable of if we could wear a mask at will?
What truth would we be able to speak?
What feeling could we emote?
How much more ourselves we might be?
How much might we conceal?