In the Middle Ages, the recently deceased were immortalized with wax or plaster death masks that preserved their facial features for generations. Similarly, the mask that Björk donned at her Tokyo Miraikan Museum performance last Tuesday could be considered a death mask for the living–one that preserves internal facial features rather than external.
The Rottlace mask, created for the Icelandic musician by designer Neri Oxman and her team at MIT’s Mediated Matter group, takes its form from Björk’s musculoskeletal system. It emulates the complex system of muscles, connective tissues, tendons, and ligaments that control the human voice. The concept behind Rottlace–derived from the Icelandic word for “skinless”–was to visually represent ideas of self-healing and expression for Vulnicura, Björk’s gut-wrenching album about her break-up with artist Matthew Barney.
The mask is the first of several that simulate a reincarnation of sorts, starting out with a replica of Björk’s muscles and ligaments then morphing into something else. For the first mask, Oxman and her team computationally generated the “muscle textile,” as they call it, with point cloud data taken from a 3D facial scan. They digitally fabricated the mask out of several materials, chosen based on the internal structures it emulated–for example, stiff bone-like materials for bones and cartilage; semi-flexible material for ligament and fiber-based material for tissue structures. The other masks build upon that structure but unfurl into more complex structures that resemble otherworldly–and somewhat terrifying–mythical creatures. All of the masks were manufactured by the 3D-printing company Stratasys using a multi-material printing technique.
Multi-material 3D printing is a specialty of MIT’s Mediated Matter group–as are wearables that externalize internal organs, weirdly enough. Oxman’s 2015 project Wanderers, a winner of Fast Company‘s Innovation By Design awards, is a series of wearable structures that augment the digestive, nervous, skeletal, and integumentary (hair and skin) biological systems. For Björk, who loves a good mask, Neri expanded on her biologically inspired fabrication processes with a mask that literally exposes–an inspired costume accompaniment to an album that’s considered to be her most vulnerable and personal yet. It’s the ultimate design-musician dream team, if you ask us.