Ana Mrovlje is a Slovenian installation artiste specializing in psychoanalysis. Here she writes about one of her latest works titled "Another", presented in Trieste, Italy and Ljubljana, Slovenia earlier this year. She shares the the process of her work, the ground it stands on, and about the dialogue between her work as a psychoanalyst and as an artiste.
The idea for the installation of unmasked faces, titled Another, came from my study and observations of people’s artificial behaviours triggered by life and social situations. For a long time I was observing my own artificiality, which was undeniably a part of me, representing a reaction to something that moulded me into a certain mental shape. I started to think about masks as sediments, which were layered throughout our personalities.
With psychoanalysis being my other passion/profession, I am persuaded that a good art work can trigger a change in a person’s perception of themselves and others. It has the potential to boldly penetrate through the shallowness and touch deeper layers of our being. In this way I see art as a potential tool for a change on the collective level compared to psychoanalysis that focuses on the changes on the inner, personal levels of functioning.
During the period of two years of making the art installation of white unmasked faces, more than fifty people came to my atelier to challenge their ideas of who they might be, maskless. In the process of unmasking their face, each of the participants spent one hour with me in an indirect interaction in a complete silence. In that hour that person could not speak nor open their eyes. However, the silence loudly revealed the emotional state that they were in, through the feeling of the atmospheric presence. The masks on the wall represent the stories of very diverse individuals, including almost a hundred year old man with many stories to tell, blind people, mothers and daughters, the lonely and the satisfied.
This art piece was entangled in uncovering, revealing what was hidden but essential. I was searching for an unconditioned human face, a mental state of raw being, focused on existing without acting on one's thoughts. For me, this process was live sculpturing, similar to the technique that Leonardo Da Vinci called per via di levare, which means to remove and take away the unnecessary in order to extract and come to the essence - which is a sculpture (an unconditioned face) that was from the beginning contained in the rough stone.
When I started making a face cast, the level of communication between us rapidly transformed. People, tired by social automatisms, were asked to stay quiet, not to smile, speak or nod. Being robbed of their routine gestures, they sat down in front of me in the complete gesticulative nakedness. Experience of not activating the usual social moves while at the same time staying in interaction with me was new to most participants. After the process had been finished, the participants got their white, unmasked faces in their hands.
Jung clarified the meaning of persona as that which in reality one is not, but which oneself as well as others think one is. The whole process of making the installation was an artistic action of uncovering a person’s persona, the thick social layer of inauthenticity. This powerful leftovers, white masks that were included in the installation, served as a platform for a new, different experience to an outer observer. Lacan similarly challenged the idea of the real with the conceptualization of the mirror phase that happens in childhood, the moment when an infant sees themselves in a mirror as a whole being and not as a fragmented body. This event marks the beginning of the identification with the reflection of oneself which, according to Lacan, represents the beginning of the development of the ego. At the same time this integrated, corporal identity, paradoxically alienates us from ourselves and defines us as an outer body.
This idea of how we identify ourselves with the mirror image of our body became the wheel of the art piece I was creating. I wondered how the past images of ourselves are conditioning our present life and our interactions with other people. In the same way the past image history of others effect our perception of ourselves through their projections.
This led me to examine the underlying meaning of a mask, the meaning that does not focus on what can be hidden by the mask but rather on the secret potential that can be activated by a certain behaviour, by a specific mask. I began to explore the idea of how one can rediscover themselves by being covered, by being masked. Through the artistic process of making the face casts I gave emphasis on the present moment, on the raw experience rather than on people’s preconceptions of their perceived selves.
While peeling off the layers of inauthentic behaviours I started to think about the true medium of this art piece. The final installation of ceramic masks was in fact only a leftover of raw experiences of the participants. I was in fact working with the direct experience of people and myself in the creation of the art work. This process with each participant led me to learn about people’s emotional biographies through mutual experience that was presence based and not speech or gesture based. It was about sharing time between two people with no action necessary. At the end of the process, the question of how we wear our masks started to turn in to the question of how our masks wear us.