By Taylor Tracy
Masks aren’t just for Halloween. They can be art too. The latest show in the Korn Gallery, “Soundings,” displays a selection of masks made by Professor of Music and mask maker Norman Lowrey.
Students will find themselves in virtually another space once they enter the gallery, where the masks hang on the walls, sit in the windowsills and rest on the minimalist white pedestals waiting to be looked at and discovered by curious viewers. A projector is also set up showing a multi-hour loop of video art. Sounds fill the gallery as well, making it a true sensory experience that students won’t forget. The exhibit feels like an intimate collection, a culmination of stories and experience.
About the series of works displayed in the gallery, Lowrey said, “This is a retrospective spanning thirty-five years of my creating masks which have sound-making devices installed in them. They thus can function as musical instruments.”
The masks had their origins in the same space where they are displayed now. About the inspiration behind his project, Lowrey said, “I met a ceramic sculptor, Marion Held, with whom I did a collaborative project in the original Korn Gallery in 1978. I made some sound installations with her sculptures and also began making ceramic flutes.” About an epiphany he had doing so, Lowrey added, “One day I realized that the clay flutes were covering my face, like a mask. The next flute I made was built into a clay mask. That’s what started this whole adventure.”
Lowrey’s work demonstrates experimentation with material to develop and work towards an idea. Lowrey described his evolving use of material when he said, “The Singing Masks, as I call them, were first made of ceramics. From that material I moved to carved wood, virtual versions playable on computer, and now leather. They also morphed into inclusion in automata and a variety of multimedia.”
Like any artistic endeavor, the masks have presented their own highs and lows. About the gratifying aspects of the process, Lowrey said, “Several rewarding aspects: expanding awareness, especially listening, collaboration with a global community, joy of discovery.” About the most difficult part, Lowrey added, “The most challenging aspect has been remaining open to new directions and making new discoveries.”
Further addressing his inspiration and process, Lowrey said, “While I’ve been influenced by indigenous masks, especially Northwest coast Inuit masks, my primary process involves finding the image and voice in the materials. That’s most obvious with many of the carved masks, but it’s also a goal with other materials.”
The masks not only have a voice, but they also seem to have a sense of psychological interiority attached to them. Lowrey expanded on this when he said, “While I’ve used the term ‘performance,’ I rather like to think of wearing and sounding the masks as entering the mind of whatever the iconography of the mask suggests. In many instances that’s an animal, like Fox, or Bear, or Coyote.”
This sense of psychological space has implications for how the masks function, not to hide and alienate, but to foster and forge a sense of connectivity. Lowrey expressed this idea when he said, “For me, masks aren’t about hiding or scaring as they’re often used for Halloween, but rather transforming my own consciousness, and maybe those who are present, to provide a sense of connection with all of life.”
Overall, the masks have a peaceful and calming effect. This sense seems to be carried out in Lowrey’s own mission behind the work. About what he hopes people will take away from seeing his work, Lowrey said, “Joy, connection with the natural world, growing listening skills, openness to new ways to make music. Maybe a good laugh, or a simple pleasure. My own “take away” is to somehow realize more profoundly how everything is connected, and how I need to treat the Earth and everything on it with more respect and greater caring. I invite everyone who may have interest to join me in this endeavor.”
“Soundings” will be on view until Nov. 18 and the gallery is open Tues.-Thurs., 12:30-4 p.m. in the Dorothy Young Center for the Arts. The gallery will also be open Sat. Oct. 29, 10 a.m.-4 p.m. There will be performances to accompany the show on Sat. Oct. 29, 10:30 a.m.-12 p.m., Fri. Nov. 11, 4-6 p.m. and Fri. Nov. 11, 8-9:30 p.m. There will also be an opening reception Fri. Nov. 4, 5:30-7:30 p.m.
[Feature Image by Allison Estremera/Assistant Student Life & Arts Editor]