A Covid-19 mask is usually found as a sort of protection. But what if our masks turned chances for publicity — the actual physical expression of our thoughts, preoccupations, and the way we relate to the turbulence of the exterior entire world?

That was the obstacle faced by MIT undergraduate college students assigned to design a mask that reflected specific and collective experiences throughout the pandemic. As aspect of the interdisciplinary system 4.302 (Foundations in Art, Structure and Spatial Techniques: Style and design and Scarcity), run by the MIT Foreseeable future Heritage Lab and the MIT System in Art, Tradition and Technological innovation (ACT), the assignment was motivated by the world wide Co-MASK undertaking initiated by the course’s professor, Azra Akšamija, a faculty member in the Section of Architecture. While Co-MASK focuses on building do-it-your self material deal with-coverings for defense from Covid-19, the college students were being encouraged to envisage a mask that would serve as a bodily extension of the head and the body — a web site of exchange and a way of relating to a larger sized local community.

The particular and the planetary

The “Design and Scarcity” course introduces theoretical and simple tools for art and design in fragile environments — an expression of the ethos of ACT, which highlights the great importance of inventive solutions for experimental challenge-solving and arduous important exercise. Supported by the MIT Alumni Course Fund for undergraduate curriculum, this class was developed by Akšamija as the residential variation of her Structure & Scarcity MITx program, the initial on the web fingers-on artwork and style and design training course at MIT. 

The students interpreted the notion of fragility in numerous approaches. When reflecting on personalized ordeals of isolation during the pandemic, the system of developing the masks turned a means of empathically connecting with modern world-wide actions and shared traumas. In their engagement with difficulties these as racial discrimination, migrant exploitation, and ecological damage, the masks are manifestations of the worries that pervade the university student practical experience and their priorities as designers. The task addresses the fragility of environments at numerous scales from the personalized to the political to the planetary — and correct down to the scale of the virus by itself, which is at the same time combating for its possess survival.

This expansive scope mirrors the aspirations of the Co-MASK venture, which is intended to be borderless and multilingual. “The Co-MASK designs developed by the students show just one of the central demands that Covid-19 pandemic built apparent for us all,” claims Akšamija. “That we — humans and non-individuals — want to arrive jointly in a new way and reveal solidarity with the most vulnerable in our planetary community.”

Reinterpreting shelter

The get the job done of a number of of the students engages critically with the problem of shelter and the safety of people today and communities.

“American Dream,” a mask made by Diego Yañez-Laguna, a second-12 months undergraduate art and design significant, addresses the plight of migrants held at borders. “The goal of this mask is to exhibit how the immigrant expertise in the United States is far from the American Aspiration,” points out Yañez-Laguna. “That message of chance and welcome is represented by visible references to the Statue of Liberty — but the corruption of these ideals is shown as a result of the use of barbed wire, which represents a history of mistreatment, scare techniques towards migrants, and an obsession with borders and division.”

Caleb Amanfu, a fourth-calendar year undergraduate double-majoring in architecture and mechanical engineering, selected to use a bandage as the main material for his mask, “Seen” — a representation of societal repression. “This mask is seeking to simply call to consideration the sensation of currently being seen and not listened to though calling into problem the systems and societal circumstances that result in those encounters to persist,” states Amanfu. “This mask, like the units them selves, is preventing the consumer from talking up although concurrently ‘suffocating’ them under the complications they are making an attempt to discuss out towards.”

For Janice Tjan, a third-calendar year undergraduate double-majoring in mechanical engineering and artwork and style and design, the project was an possibility to give voice to the activities of homeless small children throughout the pandemic. “Blazon Mask” is built to convey the inside out, giving a web page for the wearer to self-advocate and exhibit their anxieties. “The contrasting colors, rudimentary stitching, and scout-like badges add to a loud seem and a youthful perspective,” says Tjan. “These masks are manufactured from recycled cotton cloth (previous T-shirts and bedsheets), which provides to their bricolage appearance and amplifies the creative voice of the maker.”

Intellect and substance

The learners were tasked with investigating the social, environmental, and technological implications of precise materials — elements that also made available an outlet for psychological expression.  

Felix Li, a 2nd-year undergraduate art and design main, titled his mask “Resonant when Struck,” evoking both the materiality of porcelain and the sound of breakage. “For as extensive as I can keep in mind,” he says, “I’ve utilised the identical established of low cost Chinese grocery store porcelain bowls and plates. These fragile but sturdy ceramic vessels are a monument to my heritage, my mother and father, my Asian identification. The shattered and scattered form reflects the collective suffering and grief throughout the AAPI [Asian American and Pacific Islander] local community.”

Eva Smerekanych, a next-calendar year undergraduate architecture significant, sculpted her mask, “Clean,” from polymer clay to characterize how ingesting diseases could be exacerbated during a time period of isolation. “Polymer clay is a comfortable, waxy medium with the one of a kind trait of remaining malleable over lengthy intervals of time,” she suggests. “As this sort of, this medium provokes a perception of uncertainty about the potential. Will it crack? Will it get warped? Squished? Stretched? This uncertainty mirrors the uncertainty that triggers numerous to build eating diseases.”

The guiding concept of scarcity prompted numerous to investigate the environmental expense of their chosen materials, a position powerfully communicated by “Ocean Blues,” a mask intended by Izzi Waitz, a second-year undergraduate architecture major. Created by knitting with each other 10 solitary-use synthetic blue masks, her mask evokes the sight of plastic caught in a fishing web. “An abundance of masks, gloves, hand-sanitizer bottles, and other types of Covid waste are pouring into our oceans and landfills,” says Waitz. “These synthetic components, with a lifespan of 450 a long time, pose a huge danger to marine lifetime.”

Open futures

The students’ masks display how an inventive ecosystem for study and discovering can grow traditional methods to style. The lifestyle of experimentation fostered by ACT opens new ways of confronting modern critical difficulties — but it also will make house for particular expressions of fragility and vulnerability, emotions which can be the resource of transformative creativeness.

The project’s negotiation in between the general public and the personal will be even more amplified at the 17th Global Architecture Exhibition Venice Architecture Biennale 2021, wherever the masks of Akšamija and her students will be on look at in the “Foreseeable future Assembly” collective exhibition in the Central Pavilion in the Giardini. The Long run Assembly is a reflection on the previous 75 many years of UN multilateralism, inviting Biennale contributors to envisage new techniques to impactful collaboration, and to think about how a upcoming multilateralism can broaden outside of the human-centric worldview to grow to be a a lot more-than-human assembly. 

As a person of this year’s exhibitors, Akšamija invited her pupils to portray the Covid-19 virus as a stakeholder in the Upcoming Assembly. Specified the fact that the virus survives and mutates by means of human transmission, the type of the mask represents a shelter for human beings and a risk to the virus’ survival. Nonetheless the masks built by the students also categorical the instinctual desires that the pandemic has designed so evident: the requirement for energy, inspiration, and hope for the upcoming at a time that calls for resilience and resourcefulness. By redefining the personalized in conditions of the collective, these masks expose the central paradox of the pandemic: the virus that divides us has also uncovered the point of our infinite interconnection.