Mask on, fuck it, mask off
Mask on, fuck it, mask off
It’s been said before but it bears repeating: black culture is culture today.i So is it any surprise that Futureii was, ahem, ahead of his time? Sure enough, three years after Nayvadius dropped “Mask Off” and demonstrated his commissioning skills at the 2017 BET Awards,iii we’re all now scrambling to colour-coordinate our face coverings with our wrist watch straps. Because not only does spreading work, but ζῷον πολιτικόν will take any opportunity to signal, even using a pandemic-induced fashion accessory!iv
Which brings us neatly to Odilon Redon’s very timely “L’Oeuf” (1885),v on display until November 15, 2020 as part of the 500-piece private collection exhibited under the banner “Paris au temps du postimpressionnisme : Signac et les Indépendants“vi at the Musée des Beaux-arts Montréal (MBAM).vii The mask, you see, is nothing new. It’s as old as humanity. As old as Africa…viii
Go figure then, that MBAM, like every restaurant, retail shop, hotel lobby, and public-accommodating indoor space of any description these days, at least in Canada, requires that masks be worn at all times except while eating or drinking. This is certainly a modest price to pay for the doors being open again, and blessedly, outdoor spaces aren’t so restrictively burdened,ix but we still now find ourselves in a world where we must listen to voices rather than read lips and where we have to interpret smiling eyes rather than smiling mouths. Not that this is such a terrible price to pay. It’s certainly preferable to the dark days of isolation we saw in March/April 2020 when even playgrounds were verbotten. That was too much, even for avowed introverts and stalwart fambly men. The world of the “Temporary Mandatory Face Coverings” is here.
- “But Pete, what happened to White Culture? What happened to White Anglo-Saxon Protestant Colonial Culture? Don’t you miss those halcyon days??” Well Timmy, I’m glad you asked, because 1) those days happened before I was born and it’s kinda hard to miss the party you weren’t at, and 2) there’s a good argument to be made that WASPCC peaked somewhere in the early 1970s along with economic growth pars pro toto and attendant positive-sum socioeconomic games; the denouement has been playing out ever since, spiralling from despondency on downwards towards the wheelhouse of zero-sum games long-perfected by The Great Nation of Africa.
To paraphrase that old Mark Twain joke about never arguing with idiots, WASPCC was dragged down to the level of “the culture” and beaten with experience. So “the culture” is it in the third millennium AD. So it is that the most important audio-visual art this year is Beyoncé (even moreso than the already stunning RMR)
Not that WASPCC is down and out completely. The US in particular is rather masterful at switching between zero-sum and positive-sum modalities. It’ll quite happily canibalise its “trade partners” during zero-sum contractionary periods so that it’s even better positioned to capture gains during subsequent post-sum growth periods, as Conrad Bastable eloquently describes (archived). Recall that Amazon and Tesla could only exist in The States, the land where canibalisation (ie. innovation) is embedded into the DNA. So don’t count out the Land of the Free just yet! ↩
- By happy coincidence, I saw Future live a few years back when he was touring with Drake… Future stole the show. ↩
Sources with direct knowledge tell us Future’s camp hired designers Marianna Harutunian and Xtina Milani to create 3 unique masks for Future and Londyn. We’re told Future dropped between $2,500 to $3,000 per mask — all of which were made with brass frames and Swarovski crystals. Londyn rocked rose gold brass with gold crystals. Future had one for arrivals and another for his performance … both with clear, black and orange crystals. They took about a week and a half to make. Clearly, Future’s was designed so he could rap through it.
via TMZ (archived). Of course, K-Poppers were Making Masks Great Again a decade-plus ago, but their bleached blond hair and exposed midriffs still weren’t enough to persuade Westerners of the merits of masks. Come to think of it, Michael Jackson unsuccessfully tried to kick off this trend too. Well, well, well… how the turn tables… ↩
- Why are masks the fashion accessory of the moment? Well for one, they work! Even though they’re frequently being combined with social distancing, as was certainly the case at MBAM, when really they’re either/or propositions, masks are still quite a good idea for anywhere not yet adopting Frank Lloyd Wright’s Broadacre City recipe. That being said, forcing masks and social distancing at the same time is like wearing a dome and having the girl on the pill. Yes, it improves your odds of the desired outcomes, but if we’re considering public health holistically, we’d be remiss to ignore the psychological harm in having to treat others like lepers… bandito lepers no less. Do you know how good hugs feel? ↩
- And why crop the pic there? To quote Stormzy, “And I ain’t flexin’ on you niggas / Cah I’ll still be sexy if I’m broke,” which is a nice idea even if it’s a bit rubbish! ↩
- The term “independent” also gets a ton of (fairly lazy) play in the watch collecting world, but what does it mean? And why is it so poorly defined? Lines in the sand are typically drawn to include Greubel Forsey and Urwerk but not Rolex, though sometimes Richard Mille, but rarely Patek, even though all are privately owned and none part of a soul-crushingly repressive corporate groups (eg. Swatch, Richemont, LVMH). Some draw the line at production volumes of, say, 5`000 pieces per year, or perhaps 2`000, others at ownership by a group, others by membership with Académie Horlogère des Créateurs Indépendants (AHCI), and still others by a “vibe.”
But to bring it back to the MBAM exhibition, the Salon des Indépendants, founded in 1884 as “clean break” from the classical French schools of fine arts (but really more like a “3% rule” break given the continued adherence to classical proportion and composition), promoted the idea of art exhibitions being “Ni jury ni récomponeses,” striving for, in the words of Paul Signac, “Justice en sociologie, harmonie en art: même chose,” which was a highly politically charged manifesto. As Anne Drymond of University of Lethbridge beautifully illustrated in “A Politicized Pastoral: Signac and the Cultural Geography of Mediterranean France” (2003) (PDF) :
In 1891, Signac had passionately supported aesthetic freedom. The visual evidence of the mid-1890s shows that during a period of severe government censorship of anything thought to promote anarchist ideals, Signac beleived in the value of didactic subject matter when combined with Neo-Impressionism’s radical technique. In the later 1890s, however, Signac returned to his earlier faith that the visual harmony created by the Neo-Impressionist techique would signify his ideals, and he abandoned the overt symbolism of these works. After the turn of the century, Signac suggested that the technique was suited exclusively to such positive representations. [...] Neo-Impressionists, he emphasized, are not seeking realism. We do not want to imitate, he insists, but instead have “the will to create the beautiful… We are false like Corot, like Carrière, false, false! But we also have our ideal — to which it is necessary to sacrifice everything.” Thus, while Signac abandoned the overt symbolism seen in Harmony, he continued to value the underlying principle of these works: an idealized, harmonious landscape that both envisions and embodies the political and social ideals of the anarchist movement.
- This world class display – quite possibly belonging to a Russian collector, though the owner remains unnamed and is only alluded to as a “third generation gentleman collector” – is well worth the visit if you’re in town. From Braque to Signac, from Chagal to Seurat, it’s overwhelmingly broad, deep, and powerful. Can you imagine continuing such a legacy, from your grandfather, down to your father, down to you? Can you really? ↩
- To quote André Malraux from the infinitely quotable “The Voices of Silence” (1953):
Doubtless the use of masks accounts in part for the emphatic gestures and ornate presentation of every scene which make all classical art seem like one long stage performance. Asia, too, where the stage play aspired to be a rite, was obsessed by the mask. Until the great age of Christian art the mask prevailed everywhere; even in Roman portraits, where the face either betrays no feelings or proudly masters them. Then again, classical painting and sculpture had recorded joy, sensuality and anger; whereas Chartres and Rheims are all for meditation, gentleness and charity. Whatever relates to the senses may be expressed by the shaping of the body or its movements, sensuous appeal by the molding of breasts, joy by the free rhythm of the dance, though the faces may be left quite abstract; it is with the face alone that finer emotions are conveyed. Thus in classical statuary the mobile elements of the face (eyes and mouth) count for little; whereas Christian statuary pays particular and passionate attention to these. When in the course of visiting a chronologically arranged museum we enter the first Gothic room, we seem to be meeting living men for the first time. When an Asiatic sees our medieval art, his first impression is one of shamelessness; far more than any Greek nude it shocks him. For Gothic art is man unmasked. Nothing attenuates the effect of nudity so much as the depersonalization of the face, a fact that the Renaissance artists were quick to grasp.
No wonder Asians don’t mind masks half as much as Americans! ↩
- The water park at Granby Zoo was definitely “mask on! fuck it, mask off!”
- Masks are, of course, fashionable only after the horses have bolted. The barn doors were closed closer to August 1st rather than April 1st because, y’know, institutional decay is a thing. ↩