Well, here we are, entering into another spike of COVID-19 cases and an inevitable winter where outdoor dining and adequately ventilated hangs are going to be near impossible. It’s hard not to think back to the before times, when even if you lacked a social life, you had people you could casually talk to at work. Now, I spend almost every day alone in my room, talking primarily to the people I work with directly, but with everyone reduced to a teeny tiny box on my computer screen. Yes, there are “video happy hours,” but we all know those are, in fact, terrible.
Although near impossible, let’s focus on the good things: It’s almost Halloween and I have yet to pick up a true quarantine hobby. And the truth is, I've really come to miss my co-workers. So, to better prepare for the long winter ahead, I decided to create masks of them, so I can sidle up to the water cooler for some gossip, or grab a few beers with a work friend, all IRL. Goodbye loneliness.
I put out a call on Slack asking who might be interested in having their likeness crafted in rudimentary papier-mâché—because consent is key—and tried to emphasize that while I studied fine art in college, I had no idea what I was doing. I then asked the willing participants to send me photos, but fearing HR's wrath, I quickly recanted and decided to do it completely from memory. Looking back, this was a solid choice on my part; go me.
In an attempt to be somewhat eco-conscious, I decided to use my roommate's delivery boxes as a base, taping them together to make a basic structure. Then, I figured I could use the packing paper to build the general shape of the face and tape it all together to avoid a gluey mess.
Several glasses of wine and two TikToks later, I started to wonder if I had ever seen a human face before. I was only on my first mask, and what was supposed to be the gentle face of my former boss was looking more and more like a Cronenbergian nightmare. I started wildly posting on Slack—“Hahaha sorry in advance! These are going to be interesting!”—which only stoked more interest.
To speed up the process, I decided to take another approach in form-building. I bought expanding foam, thinking I could just cover a structure with it then carve it away once it hardened. Chipping away at something HAS to be easier than building it up, I figured.
That mask came out heavier and larger than any of the others, and I wasn’t sure how I was going to paint it. Carving into solid foam is hard in the opposite way that paper is—it’s unwieldy and difficult to get any definition. I decided to just stick to flat cardboard, cover it in tape, then cover it in plaster from a bona fide art store.
This proved to be the easiest and quickest method, and for a brief moment I wasn’t swimming in self doubt and shame. I put plaster on all the masks, quickly painted them, and then proceeded to make the strangest purchase I can remember: wigs resembling the hair of my colleagues.
Looking at my cart, all I could see were weird approximations of the people I knew. It’s wild how we are so defined by our hair.
When the wigs came, I assembled the final looks and shot each mask in my studio. I then gathered the photos and organized a few one-on-ones with my co-workers—now roommates!—to show them how we can celebrate Halloween together, apart but together. Here are their initial reactions:
“Well, I did just get a haircut.”
"My eyes are hazel, but everything else looks fine."
“Oh wooooow. Ummm.”
“It makes me look much more approachable than I probably am to most people.”
“I love it, but I also hate it, and I want to burn it after October 31st.”
“I LOVE IT SO MUCH”
Robert Hickerson works at VICE during the day, and at night is an artist making things in his closet. He is an Aquarius, rising Leo, moon Gemini, and is 5’ 10”. See more of his work on IG at @roberthickerson