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Daily Mask Practice Fights Artist's Quarantine Blues

Allison Hadley | May 28th, 2020

Daily Mask Practice Fights Artist's Quarantine Blues

Arts & Culture  |  Visual Arts  |  COVID-19

 

Alvarezdelugo_#33 (HempRopeandDriedBranches)
Corina Alvarezdelugo Photos. 

The masks are a far cry from the uniformity of the surgical mask. One, made of teabags dipped in plaster, resembles an albino dinosaur’s scales. Another looks like a small forest has sprouted from artist Corina Alvarezdelugo’s mouth, a mess of twigs built like a COVID-deterrent bird’s nest.

A barbed wire over mesh mask creates a barrier of a different type. Googly eyes gaze dispassionately out en masse from a different mask, all in different directions, asking the viewer what it is to be seen.

To be seen—that is one of the underlying themes of Alvarezdelugo’s daily mask making practice. Nearly each day, the artist posts a new mask portrait to her Instagram, featuring both front-facing and profile views of her wearing her non-functional creations. They are creative mug shots, showing only her eyes and, occasionally, bits of her cheeks and mouth that peek out from a crocheted design.

Each mask incorporates a variety of materials, sewn, crocheted, or woven together. These are not functional but creative: they conjure up ceremonial masks more than the clinical.

CorinaScreenshot
Zoom.

These materials were all ‘found,’ on hand in Alvarezdelugo’s home or in the dormitory of the Ethel Walker School, where she teaches art and manages the galleries. The artist makes a new mask every day, usually from the dormitory activities room that has also become her “office, classroom, and studio” as the rest of the school is completely closed. Alvarezdelugo still teaches via Zoom; she said she felt the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic almost immediately.

“Everything had a different mentality,” she said in a recent interview over Zoom. “Does it make sense to be doing this right now? Will my students be able to go home?”

It was hard, as a residential instructor, to say goodbye to her students so early. Almost overnight, she found herself in empty facilities. Her teaching universe was suddenly reduced to a computer screen.

“I used to spend so much time traveling between buildings, but now I just sit!” she said. “My back is really hurting!”

Isolated from and worried about her students, Alvarezdelugo tried to bridge the distance by participating in the Brooklyn Art Library’s 28 day sketchbook challenge and posting it to the school’s arts Instagram, which she manages. She liked the daily aspect of the challenge, in which every day was a different sketch prompt.

Alvarezdelugo,2020,HerodsEvil (yarnandBunnyTailGrass)
Corina Alvarezdelugo Photos.

Feeling distant from her students as the pandemic wore on, Alvarezdelugo took to doing the daily prompts to both model daily creativity and show the students that they could see things differently through art.

As her life upended itself during the quarantine, Alvarezdelugo found she couldn’t continue with the work she had been doing as part of her MFA at Lesley University. The former work utilized a variety of crafts coded as traditionally feminine that dialogued with her heritage as a Venezuelan, a woman, and a member of a collectively minded society. It also required access to a studio and space beyond what her current situation could provide in quarantine, and no longer felt achievable to the artist.

A friend of hers, Kim Bernard, launched a second challenge called #dailyartprompts. It encouraged artists to participate in 15-minute art challenges and post the results on Instagram. It prompted Alvarezdelugo to think about how the creation of new work was linked to the creation of her existing work. Her mind jumped to the school’s sewing machines and unused materials.

But the studio and buildings were closed. Blocked from access to the sewing machines, she turned to a familiar and “comforting” art of crochet to make her first mask, which she then posted to her Instagram on April 16. She has now completed over 38 masks, turning to ever stranger materials and designs, all based on the now ubiquitous shape of the surgical mask.

“I went crazy, and it started as something that was good to me, and helping me, and making me be creative,” she said. Crochet really helps me relax and something I can do while talking or watching tv and something I could just keep doing. I am still using female crafts and tapping into the domestic.”

Masks, she added, are a way to also dig into her psyche—to ask herself why she doesn’t want to be seen. She runs a second Instagram account dedicated entirely to “shadow selfies.”

Alvarezdelugo,2020,DoNotInjestDesinfectants(CautionTape)
Corina Alvarezdelugo Photos.

“With masks, it’s a way to hide yourself,” she said. “I don’t want to be seen. I’m really tapping into my psyche here!”

These masks aren’t designed to be functional: they do not stem the spread of COVID-19, nor are they meant to. Instead, they are designed to inspire and ground her followers to time. She explained that she sees it as a”performance piece” that is wholly of the virtual moment: Instagram followers have started to expect the pieces, not unlike artist Martha Lewis’ nightly Quarantine CineGrams or the thousands of one-a-day quarantine challenges floating around the internet.

She recalled one follower who told her it gave them something to look forward to every day, and she agreed. Her plan is to continue the daily practice as COVID-19 continues to keep society writ large on pause, but with some changes.

“I was crocheting such heavy material it started to hurt my hands, so it’s time to invent something new,” she said.

She smiled gleefully and showed off a hand brace, a side effect of occasionally crocheting industrial materials, such as copper wire meshed with moss, or ribbon and keyboard keys.