Ecology Part 1: Symbiotic Mask.

Responses to the pandemic have varied widely on both personal and institutional levels. Many people, influenced by fear and restriction, are doing whatever they can to keep themselves safe. This has led to a constant consumption of media and creating at - home solutions. And while these practices are valuable when contextualized appropriately, they often are not. So there is an opportunity - that few are consciously aware of or thinking about - to pursue these endeavors with a greater mindfulness toward the world around us. And in doing so, people can bolster their health and sense of well-being.

Since the beginning of the pandemic and resultant supply shortages, there has been a huge surge in the creation of DIY personal protective equipment. Additionally, much more attention is being paid to health experts and organizations. This project is a product commentary on the former by a hypothetical example of the latter.

The main source is my own experience since the pandemic began, when I came back to live in a rural environment. Also in seeing many examples of DIY PPE, and then trying to make some myself.

Key ideas for framing the project include the concept of social ecology as defined by activist Murray Bookchin, as well as mission statements of environmental nonprofits and the World Health Organization. Additionally, the notion of the "Great Pause", described by Julio Vincent Gambuto in his recent viral medium posts about the pandemic.

Visual/material inspiration is drawn from my experiences with traditional product design, creative reuse/up-cycling, indigenous craft practice, and wearable sculpture in performance art as introduced to me by the artist Diego Montoya.

The primary solution is a face mask that incorporates a living plant as a way to draw attention to how people can find mindfulness and empathy for the planet in their own personal search for health. It proposes the idea of a mutually beneficial relationship between man and nature, where the best path to health is a holistic and natural view of health. This ecological and communitarian view on society forms the idea of a social ecology.

In my proposed future, this idea is being promoted by an environmental health organization that was founded to address the impact of the pandemic on society, as well as on the planet. Its mission is to promote naturalist and environmentalist approaches to personal health, in rejection of pre-pandemic anthropocentrism. And in this instance, the way it promotes this goal of social ecology is with a viral campaign. Its content highlights the steps taken by a particular family of rural craftsmen, who made and use the Symbiotic Mask.

The mask is about having a symbiotic relationship with nature; there is a mutually beneficial, cyclical exchange of essential resources between them. The wearer inhales oxygen produced by the native wildflower in its terrarium, and the plant uses the CO2 exhaled by the wearer. Furthermore, condensation forms on the inside of the mask and drips down into the soil, thereby watering the plant. The wearer keeps the plants alive: expressing empathy for nature - while benefitting from it as well.

I created the structure for the mask by using recycled materials such as plastic and wire. I then finished it with a casing of naturally-treated deerskin and sinew. This approach takes a strong stance on material politics, in support of environmentalism. The ideas behind this decision embrace the overall goal of the mask: to benefit nature through our action.

matthew mcgehee