Björk’s music may have been remixed countless times over the years, but now with the help of 3D scanning and printing technology, her face has been remixed, too. A recent collaboration between MIT’s Mediated Matter research group and 3D printing company Stratasys Ltd. resulted in a series of remarkable masks that reinterpret the very flesh that they’re designed to cover.
Rottlace is the most recent project to explore the Mediated Matter Group’s specific area of research, which their mission statement calls “Material Ecology.” In her 2015 TED talk, group leader Neri Oxman expanded on this notion, describing the group’s work as, “operating between machine and organism.” Björk also has a long history of making work that compares innovative technologies with the natural world. For instance, the music video for her 1998 single, "Hunter," features Björk undergoing a transformation into a mask-like digital animation of a “techno-bear.” So it’s no surprise that a project involving these dynamic entities would yield such stunning results.
Rottlace was inspired by Björk’s latest release, Vulnicura, and her admission that the album focuses on the healing process that takes place after a breakup. A statement provided by the Mediated Matter Group explains that the project, “explored themes associated with self-healing and expressing ‘the face without a skin.’ The series originates with a mask that emulates Björk’s facial structure and concludes with a mask that reveals a new identity, independent of its origin.” Although several mask were designed, “One of the masks from the series was selected for Björk’s stage performance at the Tokyo Miraikan Museum,” says the group’s statement.
While some of the masks do look like the muscles and tendons that might be exposed if facial skin were removed, the production of the work goes deeper than appearances alone. “Inspired by their biological counterpart, and conceived as ‘muscle textile,’ the masks are bundled, multi-material structures, providing formal and structural integrity, as well as movement, to the face and neck,” says the Mediated Matter Group. These masks don’t just mimic the appearance of facial tissue; they’re designed and constructed to behave like it as well.
A video demonstration of a 3D printed, “graded modulus object,” the Mediated Matter Group explains, “Rottlace is considered a form of graded modulus mask.”
The Rottlace mask worn by Björk was fabricated with cutting edge, multi-material 3D printing technology manufactured by Stratasys Ltd. The design was “printed as a single, multi-functional material system, composed of rigid materials combined with nano-enhanced, elastomeric structures.” This process is meant to mirror the way that biological structures grow. “As in the human body, where continuous, collagenous elements alter their chemical and mechanical properties as a function of the tension they exert or endure, each mask is designed as a synthetic ‘whole without parts.’”
Understanding the ideas and processes behind this project gives us some insight into the the title of the work itself. The statement about the project explains that, “Rottlace is a cognate of Roðlaus (“skinless” in Icelandic).” In addition to wordplay, this title also seems to point to the notion that our own intricately designed bodies, as well as our relationships, are impermanent and constantly changing.
Keep up with the Mediated Matter Group’s continuing research into “Material Ecology” at their website.