“Presencing is luminous self-concealing”.
Over the last few weeks, we have focused on a question that has puzzled our species since the dawn of human time – what it means to be human.
For me, what distinguishes us from other living things is that we are thinking beings (homo sapiens) and, as such, the key to being human rests with how we consciously create our identities and exist with others in the world.
In NLS’s Moving Image archive, I was particularly drawn to a series of stills of masks from the film ‘FACES’ by Edward McConnell. For centuries, cultures have used masks in spiritual rituals, national traditions, celebrations and life-cycle events. More recently, during the current COVID-19 crisis, masks have been used to protect ourselves and others from contracting disease. I am interested, though, in the less literal and more figurative masks that we wear. In the course of my own research, I also referred to the psychological writings of Carl Jung and his argument that our clothes, our hair and make-up and the ways we speak are all essential components of another type of mask that we use to project our personas as social beings.
From the archive, I also drew inspiration from an STV film from 1975 about the artist, John Byrne, and a mural he completed (‘Boy on Dog’) in Crawford Street, Partick. Byrne had received the commission from the authorities at the time in a bid to “brighten up” the tenements in a traditionally working class area of the city. As Byrne is well-known for his flamboyant sense of style, the physical contrast between him and the drab tenements is very marked. I was struck by how, in the film, Byrne exemplifies Jung’s notion of how we project our personas onto the world.
Seeing this, I was inspired to bring the project to a much more personal level and introduce ideas of social class. Reading Franz Fanon’s ‘Racism and Culture’, I was reminded that the development of an individual’s mask or persona is always conditioned by issues of race, class, gender and what he refers to as the “social panorama”.
John Byrne originates from the Ferguslie Park area of Paisley – an area similar to that my own parents came from. In my resolved studio project, I am therefore focusing on my own family and how they have responded to their particular “social panorama” to create their own masks and become who they are.
Experience:Being HUMAN 2020/21
Programme:Painting & Printmaking
Archive:Moving Image Archive (National Library of Scotland)