Ross Normandin 2017 GRIN

Slabs and a shell; a hell



We can all recall wearing masks as children, especially the ones that only covered our noses and were held tight to the face by an elastic band. A duck's bill, a clown's red nose, or a pig's snout. These cheap plastic ornaments only partially obscured our faces—our eyes, mouths, and identities were still exposed. Nowadays these partial masks more often appear digitally as facial-enhancing filters on Instagram. These cartoonish appendages smooth out our facial contours and create uncanny animal-human portraits.
In his "pig paintings" and related works in Slabs and a shell; a hell, Ross Normandin features the components of masks to highlight their strange function as identity surrogates and cloaks. They provide focus on the ways in which masks enhance our awareness on the division between one's interior sense of self and the perception of oneself by others. His work makes you think about how these two dueling perceptions—self-understanding and judgment by others—can never be unified. These works also probe fundamental oppositions of back and front, forwards and backwards, and remind us that which is receding in space is also always pushing into another dimension. His masks, shells, and related artworks are the very membranes that embody these dualities. Hermetic and comedic, these artworks approximate but make strange the look and feel of human skin, our largest organ and most intimate shelter.
 - Sarah Montross, Associate Curator, deCordova Sculpture Park and Museum
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The only time that I can recall wearing masks as a child was on Halloween.  I don't think I was more interested than any other child in masks.  I would, however, always choose to wear them instead of a full costume. There was an ease to putting a mask over my face rather than painting it.  If I had used paint, my contour and expressions would still be visible.  A mask completely eliminates all recognition.  It wasn't until my father's death that I decided to make a mask.  Growing up, we'd buy them.  The mask I chose to make was my own.  Ultimately, this object meant for disguise, featured all of the same facial characters of the person behind it and similar to his. Although, when worn, all characteristics distort.  

I'm reminded of the loss of periphery vision when wearing a mask and how one needs to move their entire head from side to side to achieve a full view of their surroundings. When viewing a painting, I almost always look at the edge after I view frontally.  I am interested not only in the picture painted, but the body of the object and how it relates back to mine. I've never been comfortable with calling my works paintings, but often times I do so by default.  They function as objects, but hang on the wall.  I'm interested in blurring that line between image and object.  In the case of Pig, they line the walls of the gallery, repeating several times.  They're oriented portrait style and are approximately the size of a bathroom mirror.  They project into the space they're in and hover away from the wall. The origin of the focal point is an object that is made to be worn — a snout mask. The space between wall and rubber emphasizes this origin — an object that's meant to be worn yet the viewer can only look at it. 

These objects are supported by the walls, but hover from it.  They suggest a secondary entry.  Bruce Nauman used words to achieve a secondary point of view.  In his work, Malice,  he presents the word both frontwards and backwards in neon.  A neon sign is familiar to most of us. The most basic example is an "OPEN" sign that appears usually in the front of convenience stores.  It reads frontwards when we are outside and then backwards when we are inside.  Words of this type function differently than a written word on paper.  Our body's position does not dictate what we read — "nepo" still means "open", but how we read it. John Yau writes on Malice, "Are we standing outside this word, reading it? Or are we standing behind it? And if we are behind it, which in one sense we are, then aren't we being labeled by it? For doesn't the backwards "malice" implicate the viewer? Do we bear the world "ill will"? Or does the world bear it towards us?"

Pig came from a similar idea, although instead of using language, I use a familiar object.  I am interested in the capability of reading this object as a reflection or a wearable object and whether there's actually a difference or if the viewer even has the choice.