Ecology Part 2: Aromatic Mask.

In continuation of the problem from Ecology Part 1: there is an unrecognized opportunity unique to this time of pause in society, to pursue the consumption of information and creation of protective equipment with a greater mindfulness toward the world around us. However, the departure from a totally human-centric view of safety and health during a pandemic is a difficult thing to communicate. People need an accessible and regimented entryway into this pursuit.

The coronavirus has had a huge effect on our consciousness towards our personal health and safety. However, our societal response also has a big impact on the environment, and on our awareness of how we affect it. This presents people with a chance to reevaluate the anthropocentric mindset of society, and engage in personal practices that are more considerate toward the world around us. This project uses a theoretical health organization to advocate for this reevaluation through an environmentalist example of DIY personal protective equipment.

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 (like the Symbiotic Mask from Ecology Part 1) aims to show how people can find mindfulness and empathy for the planet in their own personal search for health. This product is a more feasible entryway into this practice: it could hypothetically integrate easily into a daily routine, but introducing a crucial new practice into it that will begin to evoke 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 Aromatic Mask.

The mask is about developing a meaningful relationship with nature, in whatever form it takes in our surroundings. Before the mask is used out in public, its aroma chamber must be filled with plant matter that the wearer would seek out each day. In doing so, they would build an awareness for the natural environment around them, and get to breathe in the scents of it as they go about their day. As the use of this product becomes habitual, the wearer must build empathy for their nature by taking steps to ensure sure this practice does not deplete it.

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