The Artificial Face
Mask and masquerade in the latest photographs by Thomas Rusch
Masks are an interface, a visual transportation between the inside and the outside, between reality and fiction, between life and death. In addition to its early functions as memorable portraits the use of masks in cultures around the world and over centuries displays the wearer`s wish to submit himself to religious, political or societal orders. Wearing a mask also means – literally and figuratively – to abandon oneself. Even in our present day society masks are omnipresent and every one of us is wearing them almost every day. In today’s media culture especially the face’s appearance holds a growing commercial function. From cosmetics over hair style to physical operations this naturally depends on the role we wish to play in our every day life. It becomes obvious that the mask still is a fascinating and enigmatic object par excellence. It is characterized by the disturbing strangeness of a feigned image as well as by the seductive game with the outward appearance.
This is exactly the point where Thomas Rusch starts his work. In his latest series Behind Rusch reveals himself once again as a master of subtle contrast. The visual impressions of his large-sized colour photographs have an attracting and disturbing effect at the same time. The made up faces of his models are masked almost beyond recognition with milky latex clothes and surgical gauze soaked in red. The semi-transparent tissue forms strata on and in the face’s features, delineating the underlying face only vaguely. Only the impressions of the eye sockets and the mouth mark human identity. In his series of portraits Behind Rusch is melting together the difference between skin and mask, the human body and artificial texture. Moreover, Rusch masters this unequalled dodge even without a digital modification. The blending of mask and face is done by the make up artist Jerome Guioton before the actual photograph is taken. The mask-like make up usurps the face and the face occurs in the mask. An artificial face materializes.
Rusch`s masks, created with make up and semi-transparent materials isolate the face’s features. Eyes and mouth become hieroglyphics, which make it possible for all civilisations to identify the veiled face as a human appearance. Instead of simply being a part of the body the face in Rusch`s portraits reveals itself as a cultural concept. However, at the same time his masquerades clearly show that there is a threshold between the tactile surfaces and the hidden behind. The mask presents itself, but it does not show the actual face. Rusch`s masking rather serves as a decoder, which as an epiphany offers the key to the retranslation. However, the attempt to look behind the mask and to lift the artificial veil fails. Like in real life, Rusch`s masks reveal by covering and they mask by revealing themselves. And in exactly that ambivalence Rusch`s bittersweet message is hidden. Every one of us creates appearance and relates it to Being. by Dr. Sherin Najjar