The past year has been a time of dis-ease. The deadly and unpredictable nature of the pandemic, contentious elections, environmental crises, and righteous protests over racist crimes have combined to bring social anxiety to a distressful extreme. This installation integrates sculptural work by Linda Hall with photography by Becki Rutta to document this moment.
“Anxiety Masks” is a series that Linda Hall began in April 2020. Unlike most face coverings, they conceal the entire head and sometimes the whole body. “Anxiety Masks” offer a form of protection analogous to the ubiquitous medical mask, providing shelter from the world for those who wear them. Virus safeguards are met, but they also protect against violence and discrimination. The sculptures theoretically disguise differences such as race and gender and make everyone equal. Idiosyncratic (a wasps nest formed out of pages from William Bartram’s Travels) and yet anonymizing (inverted hoods negating the KKK), masks replace the individual experience of expressive legibility.
Becki Rutta’s photographs explore this body of work in varied environments—some private, some public, some commercial, some recreational—to see how they are transformed by their contexts. Becki gave birth to a daughter in the midst of the pandemic, and she is now raising a child who has little opportunity for social interaction, let alone with people not wearing a mask. The visual cues on which we traditionally depend for communication are muted. Emerging self-identities cannot orient themselves around smiles or frowns. In their place, we meet from a distance inscrutable, half-covered faces (from the escalator at the mall, from the hiking trail in the woods, from across the freezer aisle). Exquisitely crafted, elaborate, and whimsical, “Anxiety Masks” are comforting for some and alienating for others.
The compulsive process of adornment manifests in beauty, humor, and mystery. These surface textures cover a well of worry. Social Distance simultaneously displays the anxiety of these times and the hope for a better future.
Social Distance opens on Monday, August 23, and runs through Saturday, December 11, 2021.