B E H I N D
T h e
M A S K
Artist's Statement by ERIC BORNSTEIN
An encounter with the mask is on many levels an encounter with “the Other.” Often I have sat in my studio in the early hours of the morning after a marathon work session and silently invoked the masks in the room to speak. Though physically and mentally exhausted from the efforts of design and construction, I remain exhilarated. My entreaty derives from that part of me that knows that this is just a beginning, that the mask as mere object only hints at its full function. The maker constructs a mask to reach out to another world, another dimension - to make contact and to effect transformation. What lies on the other side is a different context, one from which wisdom might be gained to apply to this world. This wisdom evolves from insights into our individual and collective personae, those fluid and illusory entities which, through interaction with others, create the sum of our lives. Sitting in the dark studio, no voice has yet responded that was not my own. But still I practice, and I wait.
The mask helps to focus certain inner or outer traits, motivations, or ideas into a physical form, which then stimulates the mind and body to respond in certain ways. The lessons learned from such “border crossings” increase our sensitivity and fluency in the less apparent dimensions which we inhabit. The primary transformation of the mask is one from object to entity. The mask, when seen as a repository and vehicle for spirit, animates the will of the maskmaker or masker. Thus, how the will is directed and to what ends becomes very important.
Master maskmaker Donato Sartori once told me, “With the mask there are two possibilities, either it works or it doesn't.” He refers to the fact that there is really no separation of design and function. Design serves not merely esthetic ends; beauty in the mask is determined by the appropriateness and effectiveness of the design to convey the desired characterizations, emotions, or spiritual presence. When there is union of design, character, and presence, i.e., attainment of a yoking of mind, spirit, and body, then the masked experience is complete. The true face is revealed. This is the yoga of maskmaking.
Among the culturally varied and geographically diverse African peoples who employ masking in their performance arts, one would not separate the mask from the dance, the music, or the presence of the spirit. In Euro-American presentations these elements are generally shown in distinct, often disconnected venues. This residency will provide students with an enriched understanding and first-hand familiarity with the connection between physical art objects (masks) and performance art (dance and music), seen as integral in African cultural events.