Kate Clark’s Parkeology is a series of public art programs that illuminate the unseen, unheard, and untouched of Balboa Park.
As part of that series, Kate recently hosted Facing Artifacts in the Museum’s rotunda in which the public were invited to have their faces cast in plaster. Later this summer, they’ll become new artifacts in a temporary exhibit at the Museum.
Clark’s goal with Facing Artifacts was to demonstrate the face-casting process and to give a contemporary perspective on museum artifacts and the Museum of Man’s 1915 exhibit, The Story of Man Through the Ages. That exhibit also featured face casts, but in what is now considered to be an outdated and scientifically incorrect way that didn’t include the voices and perspectives of the people whose faces were put on exhibit. (See page 12 of chapter 9 of Richard Amero’s Balboa Park History for more on that exhibit.)
“In the specific case of these 1915 face casts, the reason they came to the Museum is far from neutral,” Clark said. “Like other institutions in the same era, the Museum has a complicated history connected to physical anthropology, and in general, the categorized depiction of people. In hindsight, of course, we can see the difficulty of this.”
The Museum has changed a lot since 1915, including the addition of a a new permanent exhibit on human race that challenges the ideas of racial categorization that were in vogue 100 years ago and that are still too common today.
Clark also challenged those outdated notions at Facing Artifacts by not only having people volunteer to have their faces cast — a multi-step process involving layers of alginate and plaster to create a mold — but to also tell their own personal stories for the display, rather than having someone else decide that for them.
“I wanted this event to serve as a way of connecting the dots between how a seemingly inert artifact, that somehow seems like it always belonged in a museum’s archive, to the reality that it came from a living, breathing person, just like us,” she said.
During the program, 52 people volunteered for a raffle that ultimately selected 18 participants — who varied in age, gender, and ethnicity — to undergo the face casting process. They filled out a questionnaire that highlighted their personalities and beliefs, and allowed them to self-identify, which will be displayed by their face casts.
“I first visited the Museum 20 years ago as a kid. It has changed since then, but I have always enjoyed my visits,” participant Mary Jeong said. “And when I read the article about this event through the Union-Tribune, I thought it was really neat and exciting.”
Participant and experienced sculptor Anthony A. LoBue beautifully emphasized how a life mask and the involvement of the living made this event unique. He said that in 1915, a face cast was often used to create death masks after a person had passed away.
“The living person [was] no longer associated with the mask,” he said. “However, in Facing Artifacts, participants are engaging with other live people here for the entire process…they get to be involved in an activity where their mask can be seen while they are still living. They even get to own their mask [after the exhibit].”
Before these participants take their face casts home, you will be able see them on display in the Museum this summer.
— Ashley Moy, Marketing Volunteer Intern
Ashley is a San Diego native who recently graduated from the University of Southern California. She has a strong background in contemporary art and a passion for museums. With experience engaging visitors through public tours and programs during her senior year at USC, Ashley is now currently learning how to reach audiences through various marketing platforms.