The Art of Identity
What bathroom signage has to do with aviator masks and our shared existential journey.
By Maria Popova
The notion of identity has always been a fundamental subject of restless exploration in art. Today, we look at 3 very different creative meditations on the tools of crafting, disguising and exposing the self — masks and costumes.
LOS VOCALINO BROTHERS
Argentinian brothers Ariel and Sebas Vocalino are a double shot of talent. The art director (Ariel) and photographer (Sebas) duo’s latest project, a digital series titled Turista, explores the existential journey each of us is on through the eyes of a lonely traveler.
The tourist is, for us, a man who knows that is on the way, who enjoys every moment and every place he walks by. The tourist is someone who lives the present very consciously. He is a person who is lonely and connects to the places through his look.
In the first part of the series, the masked voyager has traveled to places from the brothers’ own lives — their parents’ apartment, their club, downtown in their hometown of Buenos Aires — places and situations common for the brothers, into which they invite others through the tourist.
This excellent interview with the brothers sheds light on their creative process, their inspiration, and the places the tourist is yet to take them — take a look.
BOB BASSET’S STEAMPUNK MASKS
It’s no secret we love steampunk. Which is why we dig Ukrainian artist Bob Basset’s steampunk take on culture’s most (in)famous masks.
From aviators to doctors to gas masks, his work ranges from the bizarre to the brilliant, meticulously crafted and implicitly concerned with culture’s historical need for facewear.
Now, if he could only steampunk that Joker ski mask…
THE PEDESTRIAN PROJECT
In 1989, New York costume designer Yvette Helin became increasingly fascinated by the generic graphic images of people used on many types of signage — faceless figures intended to convey broader concepts. This gave birth to ongoing performance art known as The Pedestrian Project — silent performers wearing entirely black custom-made costumes modeled after the signs, roaming the streets and other public venues and mimicking the lives of everyday people.
Since the project’s inception, The Peds have toured the world, from the MoMA to the Prague Quadrennial.
The project is part visual art, part pure whimsy, part social satire that challenges onlookers to do a double-take as they see the familiar graphic icons from signs come to life.
We see the project as a brilliant metaphor for our culture of facelessness — we live in our own little bubbles, iPod earbuds shutting off the outside world, gaze glazing over the swarm of passengers on the subway. We miss the complexity of each stranger we pass by in the street, their passions, their tribulations, their everyday reality. The Peds challenge us to rethink what we dismiss as faceless and generic, to consider the private truths within the public personas we encounter.
Published March 3, 2009