Removing the Mask

Achieving high value things in life involves effort and the tricky task of collaborating harmoniously with others. Collaboration is a skill with rewards that go beyond anything an individual is capable of accomplishing. In this paper, I will introduce you to one talented, harmonious group I am involved with. Our shared vision as artists extends beyond an educational experience into public performance to address challenging social issues. We call ourselves the Mystic Sisters. For this paper, the scope of my collaboration analysis is limited to a 10-week period of time. It begins in May 2015 at Pacifica Graduate Institute.

The class structure accelerated our collaboration process. Guided by research on historical collaborative circles, like the Suffragettes, the goals for group success were already defined. The term collaborative circle refers to self-forming groups of like-minded individuals with shared goals and similar skill levels in a particular area. Circles allow individuals an opportunity to explore ideas and be innovative in a safe environment. Often formed during transitional moments in life, these groups evolve through distinct phases and eventually dissolve. The peak experience in the group activity results in a sum that is greater than its parts. The synergy of the circle can help individuals develop and may also result in innovative ideas that benefit society (Farrell, 2003).

In the Mystic Sister circle we agreed to trust in creative synergy and simply commit to a weekly Skype session. Constant communication was the key to our success because, as Sawyer (2008) explained, “Conversation leads to flow, and flow leads to creativity” (p. 34). What is unique about our talks is that they take place over the Internet. Lisa lives in Australia, I live in California, and Tracy travels a lot.

Geographical distance might be a complication in any project, but it actually increased our creative work. Online technology was always open to receive and record our spontaneous moments of inspiration. Over a 10-week period of time our digital included six different technology platforms. Figure 1 represents our dialog and technology tool used week by week. The line graph looks chaotic, with peaks and valleys. It contrasts a calm visual image suggested by the term creative flow. The digital environment provided a way for us to share the peaks of activity happening randomly in our different time zones. Our creative flowchart looks like a lightning bolt. Fertel (2015) said:

Extremely creative people are at their peak when they’re experiencing “a unified flowing from one moment to the next, in which we feel in control of our actions, and which there is little distinction between self and environment; between stimulus and response; or between past, present, and future. (p. 42)

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Figure 1. Line graph illustrating flow by weekly summary of communication methods.

In the beginning, our conversations focused on a variety of outside influences that included our academic requirements, the Carnival of Mirrors theme for Burning Man 2015, and the specific theme of a united masculine and feminine at the Red Lighting camp stage. Talking about our group project impacted my personal creative work.

Between the chaos of exciting ideas, I noticed two plaster masks in my studio. One was of my mother and the other of my brother from 2002. I had a creative impulse to paint the masks, seen in Figure 2. Unsure of the relevance of my personal mask work to the group project, I trusted that “the further part two concepts are, the more likely it is that a truly creative idea will result” (Sawyer, 2008, p. 114).

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Figure 2. Painted masks being held by my mother and brother.

As an artist, one of the things I struggle with is keeping my creative energy alive and vibrant. Staying present and engaged, despite the potentially mind-numbing repetition required to master a creative process, is a challenge. It became a problem for me as a freelance creative professional. Achieving some career success, I noticed I was stuck in a limiting pattern.

By following creative impulses, fueled by collaborative dialog, active imagination came into the creative process. Jung, the renowned Swiss psychologist who worked with the healing potential of our creative mind, coined the term active imagination (Jung, 1976). There are various methods of active imagination, but they all share an emphasis on dialog. Not all branches of therapy place the imagination in high regard. Watkins (2000) said developmental psychology regards it pejoratively, calling it “egocentric speech” (p. 13).

However, Jung (1976) believed that through our imagination we are able to hear the soul of the world speak. In Mystic Sister conversations it became clear that invisible guests from all over the world would be participating in our project. We all had a desire solve social puzzles by giving voice to overlooked injustice, struggle, and deception.

During the course of this collaboration, I participated in a 3-day dream tending course held by Aizensatat. With his guidance, I worked with a dream from February of 2015, involving a dead baby that became a red demon face. In the process, I remembered paralyzing fears, both real and imagined. Most notable are memories of a firestorm that burned my childhood home.

The art I made next, intuitively, was another mask and face cast of myself (see Figure 3). Afterward, I did more face casts of my immediate family. I used these masks in active imagination. My family told me to honor all ancestors by placing the four masks inside a miniature pyramid. I then decided to collage the sides of the pyramid with images I associated with each family member. This creative process, for me, was removing personas of mother, father, daughter, brother, sister, son, and liberating us all to our true infinite potential as humans.

By Week 4 in the collaboration, our group project was becoming defined. We had combined all of our individual ideas and creative work and developed a plan for a mask-making workshop and ritual theatre performance.

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Figure 3. The collage features selected images from my healing creative process Red Mask.

In Week 8 we met in person on campus at Pacifica Graduate Institute for 5 days to enact our mask-making workshop and practice our performance. Having my own association with the mask, I found it insightful to share the process with the 10 participants in our workshop. Their interactions with the mask varied, as can be seen in Figure 4; however, the general tone reflected my instinct to honor the mask. Three of the comments from my video (Cline, 2015), ‘Face casting and mask making’ about the workshop are particularly relevant:

It’s hard not to think of it as something very sacred. (Michelle [:32])
This is a face that I know and love . . . the mask, I sense that it will have a different quality also. It will be her but at the same time not her. (Enrique [1:00])
There was something in the exchange and the connection between the two of us, when we were making it, that I want to honor. (Lisa [2:04])

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Figure 4. Image, from the creative workshop, shows a range of emotion in interacting masks.

As a result of this collaboration, I have a new interest in ritual theatre, especially with masks, because it is a way to embody archetypal energies safely. I discovered a new way to activate my human ability to grow personally through collective work. I believe my need to belong to something greater than myself is also at the core of what drives communities like Burning Man, also called “home.” When an individual’s perspective is enlarged through collaboration, they discover belonging and working together is joyful. This is my experience.

I am excited to develop unique ways of creative self-exploration. I look forward to continuing this work with my Mystic Sisters. I am thankful that our collaborative circle has a life beyond the scope of this 10-week class. Looking into the near future, I am curious about what we will discover. Regardless of the outcome of our creative efforts, I have already experienced something greater than I imagined possible. What I have achieved is a renewed connection to flowing creative energy, thanks to collaborative synergy, and that is exactly the success I desire.

 

 

References

Aizenstat, S. (2011). Dream tending: Awakening to the healing power of dreams. New Orleans, LA: Spring Journal.

Cline, M. (2015). Face casting and mask making. Retrieved from https://mitracline.com/2015/07/21/face-casting-and-mask-making/

Farrell, M. P. (2003). Collaborative circles: Friendship dynamics and creative work. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press.

Fertel, R. (2015). Taste for chaos: The art of literary improvisation. New Orleans, LA: Spring Journal Books.

Jung, C. G. (1976). The portable Jung. (J. Campbell, Ed.) (R. F. C. Hull, Trans.). New York, NY: Penguin Books.

Sawyer, K. (2008). Group genius: The creative power of collaboration. New York, NY: Basic Books.

Watkins, M. (2000). Invisible guests. Woodstock, CT: Spring Publications.

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