• Echoes & Afterlives

Leister, Wiebke, 2016, Book, Echoes & Afterlives Fieldstudy, 22 . Photography and the Archive Research Centre, University of the Arts London.

Abstract or Description:

Artist Publication: Photography and the Archive Research Centre, University of the Arts London, 2016, 24 pages, 33x24cm, 19 photographs (9 diptychs) with text, designed by Dean Pavitt.

Publication was launched with a live de-collage performance on 14 May 2016 at the performance event ‘Masking and Enmasking: Noh Theatre as a Strategy in Contemporary Art and Performance’ during the two-day festival ‘Noh Reimagined’ curated with mu:arts for Kings Place, London.

'Echoes & Afterlives' looks at the boundaries between embalming and enmasking: being in a skin and under a skin, in and under a mask, looking at a mask and seeing through a mask as something that equally changes one’s gait and one’s voice while playing with sensations of displacement and transformation. It treats the human face less as a façade but as an object that – even though central to our understanding of what it means to be human – is only ever in the process of approximating a subject: being filled by a subject, worn on the face of a subject. Possibly inverting the relationship of who sees and what can be seen.

A valuable reference point for this project has been the teaching of Japanese Noh theatre, in which the mask works as an extension of the actor: nuanced like a face, while the face itself is displayed as an impassive mask. This is exemplified in the actor’s ritual of holding the mask to face him in an act of greeting, prior to shoeing the mask and stepping onto stage. This moment of face-to-face communication is said to allow the actor to become an other; a symbolic pact of mutual recognition and association. When the mask folds onto the face the actor becomes enmasked while the mask has become enfaced, establishing a liminal space between subject and object. The actor appears to be one with his mask, while the mask becomes animated – accentuated by the angle of the head and the play of light on its many surfaces, reflecting a flow of ever-changing expressions.

Not unlike photography, mask-play results in emotive light images. At the same time the liveness of masks is essentially pro-photographic. The work seeks to visually translate this sense of a living object into photographs. It meditates on the moment in space and time when a mask meets a face and how the relationship between object and actor is established across the gap between two surfaces. This process combines two artistic gestures: the performer’s gesture of donning the mask and the equally performative gesture of translating facial mask and masked face into the photographic plane. The whitened face here works as a non-representational space: an empty stage, a placeholder or insertion that alludes to imaginary characters, emphasizing the reality of an inner experience while evoking a sense of premonition and awareness.

Subjects: Creative Arts and Design > W100 Fine Art
Creative Arts and Design > W400 Drama
Creative Arts and Design > W600 Cinematics and Photography > W640 Photography
Creative Arts and Design > W800 Imaginative Writing
School or Centre: Research & Innovation
Funders: Photography and the Archive Research Centre, University of the Arts London
Additional Information:

Mask credits: Victoria and Albert Museum (page 8), Noh Training Project UK (page 19), Kate Whitehead (page 1, 5, 16, 20).

Uncontrolled Keywords: Noh theatre, mask, non-likeness, photographic performance
Date Deposited: 23 Jan 2023 11:45
Last Modified: 23 Jan 2023 11:45
URI: https://researchonline.rca.ac.uk/id/eprint/5260
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