BA Graphic Communication Design, YourNOVA Award, 2021
Liǎn (脸) is an experimental mask that explores the relationship between our online personas and offline selves. The concept and design are heavily inspired by Chinese face-changing opera art and online avatars. It merges my cultural tradition with modern technology.
As a digital native, I’m familiar with this separation of online and offline self. The internet landscape is an opera and avatars are online personas. In Hinduism, an avatar is the material representation of a deity on Earth. Its etymology has evolved from a material representation to an intangible virtual one. Observing how people portray different personalities online reminded me of the traditional Chinese opera art 变脸 (biàn liǎn), an art form that’s fascinated me since I was a child.
变脸 (biàn liǎn) directly translates to “face changing”; “变”(biàn) meaning “change” and “脸” (liǎn) meaning “face”. The performer changes their face – a silk mask – with a sweep of the hand or a quick turn of their head. This change signifies a shift in moods, while each face symbolises a different emotion. It’s a performance full of suspense, intrigue and mystique. This parallels our online behaviours; we wear many faces online and can change them at any moment.
Liǎn responds to your real-time online emotions using code and soft robotics. Sentiment analysis, a form of machine learning or artificial intelligence, is performed on your online interactions. If you post, like or comment with something positive, it’ll return a positive score, inflating the part of the mask that represents a positive front. Conversely, if it’s negative, it’ll inflate the corresponding area.
Wearing this silicone mask displays the dichotomy between one’s real versus online facial expressions. The inflation changes the structure of the mask, creating an avant-garde form in line with the theatrical nature of online personalities. Liǎn doesn’t act as a criticism – rather, it’s an inquiry into our online manifestations.
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