Photographs and Facemasks
While meandering through dark-lit passages of San Francisco's DeYoung's permanent collection, I greet highlighted archives of past tribal cultures. Beneath the reflective surface, I discover a menagerie of facemasks once considered the “heads of spirits” used in ancient rituals. A combination of earthly materials and organic pigments compose abstracted forms of animals. Throughout these halls, ancient crafts elicit reveries of ravens, wolves, and mystical beings. Fellow visitors extract phones and cameras from bags and pockets seizing their daily Instagram moments. Falling into the same niche, I strive to capture the details of a facemask loosely based on the beak and head of a bird. Holding perfectly still, slowing my breath, I draw into focus the individual stitches and groves upon the form. Struggling with apparitions, I begin embracing the illusions on the glass creating a photograph upon the facemask.
Capturing, disembarking and crossing a well-groomed lawn I enter an alternate in the form of the living and scientific vessel that makes up the California Academy of Sciences. Walking through the threshold and gazing up, a glass tube encasing three stories of rainforest ecology welcomes masses of visitors many of whom eagerly wait in line to ascend the staircase and touch the canopies above. Shifting and maneuvering around the atmosphere controlled cylinder I continue and find myself face to face with the forsakenly endangered predators and prey of our time. In the first frame living penguins waddle to and fro until diving deep in temperate waters. The next frame living is no more, as the taxidermic scene of a cheetah devours a gazelle. Each cubed space within the hallowed halls holds ideals of life and death atop classically painted scenes of proposed landscape. As in the DeYoung, the details allure me. Having entered the gallery at the exit, I approach the entrance of the exhibit; here I am confronted by a gorilla of the African Western Lowlands. His scale, seated pose, and confrontationally gaze pulls myself and others around me forwards to take a closer look. Here, standing among the masses, I see faces of people, narratives, and histories reflected back and shared. Anthropomorphizing who this creature was and what of myself I see of him. Is he a god, a spirit from another realm once having been used in fiery rituals to ward off evil spirits? I can only project what I see in this flattened image of the self. A mask of the past or a photograph of the future.