13 March 2020


Masks: Between Function and Dystopia

Text: Anton Rahlwes

The mask is currently being stylised into a sad symbol by the corona virus. Mouthguards and breathing masks are already sold out in many pharmacies. It is high time to look at the diversity of the mask – apart from the omnipresent mouthguard – from the perspective of the design scene. form presents four projects.


Abstract thinking – the power to imagine something beyond one’s self – opened up infinite possibilities for human beings. The price of these possibilities is fear, above all fear of one’s own impermanence. When we look at ourselves in the mirror, we see the mask of death. We know that right beneath our skin lays the bony skull, symbol of our finite nature. In the 21st century, this type of the fear of death assumes crude forms. We don masks to fulfil the roles of society and have nearly forgotten that make-up, sunglasses and respirators are always also a metaphor for the dance with the grim reaper.





In her latest collection, “Radiation”, the still young, but already very successful fashion designer Marine Serre attaches a great deal of importance to a visually powerful narrative. The current fascination with post-apocalyptic doomsday scenarios gave the French fashion designer the inspiration for a collection which outlines the era after the collapse of the hedonistic consumer society. Eerie figures wander through the dilapidated ruins of the former metropolises, fitted out with radiation-resistant overalls and jewellery made of sea shells and gas masks. Defying the life-threatening conditions, tender wild flowers sprout up here and there from the remnants of what was once civilisation.


Phantom training mask



The principle of the phantom training mask is quickly explained: By artificially making it harder for the user to breathe, it is intended to train the musculature during various types of athletic training and thus boost respiratory efficiency. Moreover, its design would make even the comic book character Bane go green with envy. One may still ask: Isn’t life already hard enough? Apparently the performance-oriented society will stop at nothing. Now even breathing, one of few processes which most people manage without a care is to be optimised compulsively. For all those who are justifiably wondering at this point whether their past training programme was ineffective, we can give the all-clear. According to the manufacturer, “pertinent studies” in “cooperation with universities” documenting the efficacy of the mask are still pending. Until these are published, we recommend plain old breathing in and out.



Kaijyu Mask



Designer Rio Kobayashi’s Kaijyu Mask reflects his cultural heritage. It connects his Japanese past with the European present. Kobayashi committed his experiences, influences and observations to a wearable object and created a snapshot of his self-awareness. The mask consists of red cedar, colourful painting and pig bristles and was handcrafted by the designer. Kobayashi believes in high quality and exquisite workmanship and uses these values as the basis for each of his poetic creations.


Masks in the Forest



There are wild things afoot in the forest of masks. Besides indigenous rabbits and birds, exotic animals like monkeys and tigers also live in the luxuriant green. There is even a forest giant there. All of them together drive away the horrible hunter. The book “Masks in the Forest”, published by Gestalten under the rubric Little Gestalten, profits above all from the beautiful illustrations by Laurent Moreau. They are colourful and put one in the mood for flora and fauna. Thus despite texts that are appropriate for children, even adults can lose themselves in the forest of masks and feel the urge to simply put on one of the removable masks – ready for the next adventure.



This article was published in form 285. Design and Prosthetics. You can buy the complete issue here.


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