[-empyre-] greetings / on mask-making workshops

Zach Blas zachblas at gmail.com
Thu May 30 09:01:24 EST 2013

hi all--

apologies for jumping in a bit late! thanks to tim, renate, and ana
for inviting me to join this month's conversation.

while my practice has engaged collaboration in many different modes,
this week, i'd like to share the mask-making workshops i am currently
organizing and think through the idea of the workshop and collective
processes and decision-making.

first off, i'll just provide some projects i've recently been a part of:

from 2007 - 2013, i participated in queer technologies, a group i
started that usually operated as an anonymous collective:

in 2010, i co-founded the durham, north carolina branch of the public
school, which offers a variety of courses and workshops to people in
the research triangle area. http://thepublicschool.org/durham

throughout the past few years, i have also co-curated various events
and exhibitions, such as "speculative" at los angeles contemporary
exhibitions in 2011 with chris o'leary:
http://s-p-e-c-u-l-a-t-i-v-e.info/; "the coming disturbance" at mix 25
queer experimental film/video festival in new york in 2012 with micha
cárdenas; and "dark matter," a series of performative lectures
co-organized with chris o'leary and michael kontopoulos that took
place at machine project in los angeles in 2012.

for the past year, i've been organizing mask-making workshops as part
of my "facial weaponization suite" project:
http://www.zachblas.info/projects/facial-weaponization-suite/ thus
far, i've organized workshops open to the public in los angeles,
montreal, and portland, oregon. i am currently gearing up for another
mask workhop in ricardo dominguez's lab here at ucsd this friday.

the "facial weaponization suite" is a workshop-driven project that
develops forms of collective and creative protest against biometrics
and facial recognition through masks. as erin manning discussed
earlier this month, the workshops operate under a set of constraints.
divided into two different sessions, part 1 of the workshop involves
meeting together as a group discussing some pre-circulated readings
that specifically address global / local contexts of biometrics and
masks. this is pedagogical time for all of us, as we attempt to gain
some common ground around our knowledge and experience with
biometrics, masks, protest, and creative interventions. also during
this session, everyone's face is scanned (usually with a kinect) to
obtain 3d biometric facial scans of all participants, which is used to
produce a "collective mask."

this 1st session continues with a discussion and tentative plans of
possible group actions / interventions to perform with the mask. the
first session of the workshop concludes when we have agreed upon an
action to carry out. the action we decide to perform helps us
collectively determine the color of the mask and its possible shape.

after this first session, i collaborate with a 3d modeler to bring all
of these facial scans together in 3d modeling software. when all of
these facial scans are layered--but not averaged, the result is a face
that looks quite unhuman. it is a collective face that is not
detectable to facial recognition software. this 3d model of the
collective facial mask is then fabricated through cnc milling a mold
and vacuum forming with plastic.

during the 2nd session of the workshop (usually a week later), all
participants re-unite, the masks are distributed, and we perform our

it goes without saying that each workshop i've organized has been
incredibly different--with various degrees of success and failure (but
it doesn't even make sense to evaluate the workshops with such a
rubric), and these workshops are continuously reoriented as i learn
from each one. i have many other thoughts on ideas of collective
transformation with the mask as well as desires for opacity / refusals
of political recognition & representation that i can address later.
but for now, i wanted to share the workshop process with everyone.

more soon!

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