Skin and skinless

Mask, is a form of art that covers our facial expressions. I am always obsessed with Noh masks despite the fact that I would never bear a lengthy show. However, the mask is an exemplary presentation of human skin, which reveals straight forward all identity information with very limited details. Unlike the real world, there is no misunderstanding and misinterpretation of a Noh mask. Who this person is, what his/her personality is, what his/her fate will be, etc. Everything is carefully designed and presented, like an universal codebook. There are a variety of fuddling moments that we really want to understand other’s emotions but fail. I guess nobody would ever refuse to use some reference book like Paul Ekman’s Atlas of Emotions. instincts. Yet in the world of Noh, there is no need to guess.

Noh masks (能面) are carved from Japanese cypress (檜). Seashell are crunched and glued to the wood surface. Then natural pigments are applied to differentiate six different types of people: Okina (elderly), Jō (old man), Otoko (male), Onna (female), Kishin (demon) and Onryo (spirit).

The trick here: each type has unique indicators to help the audience.

Pictures from

On the left is this concave face with hollow eyes, a typical mask of Shiro-shakumi (白曲見, middle-aged women), a woman who has experienced the vicissitudes of falling in and out of love. Compared with the right-handed young girl Waka-onna (若女). They both belong to the categories of women but representatives of their subcategories without any obscure borders in between.

The performer will sit in front of a mirror facing the mask and then solemnly attaching the mask on his face. By doing so, the performer becomes the mask. Being possessed by its emotions and its past, the performer himself disappears.

One thing to notice is that Noh masks do not incorporate any tunable physical properties that control the facial form, like recapitulating, augmenting, or controlling the facial form and movement behind them

Ever since I dive into the world of computer vision, I have more exposure to artistic endeavors empowered by technology. Even now I marvel at how philosophical technology can be. Here is a great example.

Image courtesy MIT Media Matters.

Shown above is a set of masks named Rottlace. It is designed by Neri Oxman and her team at MIT Media Lab and 3D-printed by Stratasys. The name originates from Roðlaus, which means “skinless” in Icelandic. It is a group of masks representing a new form of portraiture, AKA “the face without a skin”.

In contrast with Noh mask’s abstraction, Rottlace (which means skinless in Ice) reveals reality by lifting the skin from human face. Human musculoskeletal system, including the muscles, connective tissues, tendons, and ligaments, is loyally presented on the mask with the assistance of 3D scanning and adoption of Connex3 technology, which pre-combines three materials to increase the plasticity and opacity. My friend told me that using multi-material in 3D printing is really a breakthrough so I kept a note as a good student =]

Originally it is designed for Icelandic singer-songwriter Björk. The series starts with an emulation of Björk’s facial structure and concludes with a mask that reveals a new identity, or reincarnation.

Specifically, the fibrous tissue is computationally generated as modified principal curvature directions of Björk’s facial scan — obtained as point cloud data — while the bony-like tissue emerges as support structure at points of high divergence from the principal curvature field.

Rottlace masks are so different from Noh masks in the sense that there is absolutely no stereotypes of identities, only the crude fiber-like tissues. However, to me, those two sets of logics reveals human beings’ shy attempts to see through superficial politeness and establish genuine connections with each other. I should elaborate a little bit more on this but I am so sleepy so

[To be revised haha! ]
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