Keep your Masks on and Protect your Identity!: The Anonymity of Mask Wearing

Third Year BA Fashion and Dress History student Rachel Ng shares latest discussions on the face mask and surveillance

Figure 1: Under Surveillance, 2021. Rachel Ng. Digital Illustration.

A few weeks ago, I read Rachel Kraus’s article titled ‘The Future of Anti-Surveillance Fashion is Bright’ about the potential of a facial covering to cover identity. Over the past year, face masks have become commonplace and necessary for public health and safety. Kraus states, ‘In the future, they could be the ultimate anti-surveillance fashion statement’.

I recently visited London to see family and we were taking photos in the underground. When I returned home, I was editing the photos with Procreate, one of my hobbies. However, I noticed the sheer numbers of CCTV cameras there were dotted around the station. Of course, they are there for safety, but it left me wondering how difficult it must currently be for people to identify someone. In response, I sketched an image of what it feels like to be on camera all the time. (Fig. 1)

This post comes at an appropriate time that coincides with the recent protests and the use of a mask to conceal one’s identity. The mask seems to have become a political statement that cannot only hide your identity but also highlights political uncertainty. @KateRoseBee (Twitter) shared a short video of herself in a new mask that had printed on it ‘I do not consent to search’. (Fig. 2) The mask prevents the possibility of facial recognition whilst protesting.

Figure 2: @KateRoseBee Wearing a Mask, 2021. Twitter.

There has been rising concern, in parallel with the rise of Artificial Intelligence technologies, regarding increased surveillance in our digital as well as physical lives. Although these technologies are said to tailor content, protect, and look out for us, what is to stop them from being exploited? Growing distrust in the police and government, especially amongst young people, could lead to these technologies being used to track down peaceful protestors.

Is there longevity in mask wearing? Will it continue in a post-pandemic society? Is this the future of identity protection?

Kraus’s article discusses PhD student Chiang Xie’s research into anti-surveillance fashions. Xie’s recent publication explored the idea of creating a Universal Physical Camouflage. Put simply, it is a patterning which can trick recognition systems into thinking you are something other than a human – for example, a potted plant. (Fig. 3) Science professor Tom Goldstein states, ‘now that you have the ability to wear a mask, you can cover more of your body. The more of your body you can cover with adversarial patterns, the more susceptible these attacks are’. This suggests that there is a potential for an individual to be completely anonymous whilst walking the streets.

Figure 3: Universal Physical Camouflage, 2020. Cihang Xie.

For me personally, I enjoy having the option to cover my face in an outdoor area. It prevents the spread of the Coronavirus but also provides me with comfort that if someone takes a photo of me, (accidently or not) I know that most of my identity is protected.

What are your thoughts on anonymity and surveillance?

Is surveillance necessary for the public’s safety?

Are you concerned about your own privacy?

You can read Kraus’ article here:

Chiang Xie’s recent publication on Universal Physical Camouflage:

Olafur Eliasson’s “Forked Forest Path” at Fabrica Gallery, Brighton, 2021

Second Year BA Visual Culture student Piers Courtney completed the course-related work placement at the Fabrica Gallery in Brighton, UK, as part of a module called Behind the Scenes. Piers shares a review of a current exhibition at Fabrica.

I was placed in Fabrica Gallery for a work placement towards the end of the spring 2021 ‘lockdown’, participating in installing and running workshops. On the 18th of May until the 20th June, Olafur Eliasson’s Forked Forest Path opened to the public to celebrate Fabrica’s 25th anniversary, in partnership with Brighton Festival. The artist may be well-known, but the installation, one of his earliest works, will be new to many. I was inspired to write this short review.

The work has been loaned from the Towner Art Gallery in Eastbourne. The interior of the Fabrica Gallery has been transformed into an immersive, magical path that leads the visitor deep through twists and turns, mimicking the suspense and relief of being lost in the deep forests of East Sussex.

Eliasson has formed a career of bringing to light ecological and sociological issues with immersive, fun and educational “socio-sculptures” that connect with the natural world to highlight issues such as climate change, including his epic recreation of the sun in the Tate Modern Turbine Hall in 2003. Forked Forest Path is no different.

Olafur Eliasson, Forked Forest Path, Fabrica Gallery, Brighton, 2021. Photography by Piers Courtney.

Within the 5000 branches of birch, oak, ash (and others) sourced from Foxwood Foresty near Lewes, Stanmer Park, Wilderness Wood and Laughton Greenwood, the visitor is faced immediately with a question: ‘Which path do I take?’ This is both a literal and symbolic question. As you venture through your chosen path dodging twigs and smelling the rich earthy tones, the environment, alien to the gallery space, challenges you and takes you back to walks in your childhood. For me, to Yorkshire. You then may find yourself asking ‘which path environmentally shall I take, so that all our forests can
thrive to be this dense and immersive?’ This is the beauty in simplicity of the installation. Eliasson has captured both the sublime and the subliminal.

Other questions that arose, for me, at least, were as simple as ‘how in the world did they get these branches in here?’ to as complicated as ‘what does it mean to have a overgrowing forest within a disused church?’ Fabrica’s research team has collected many resources to satisfy the need for answers, and the volunteers are always happy for a discussion. Who knows? Maybe the answers were in the path you chose not to take.

Working at a Fashion, Costume and Textiles Auction House

Sarah Carnall, Third Year BA (Hons) Fashion and Dress History student discusses how knowledge from the course helped her work as an intern at an Auction House and how her practical experience helped her on the course.

Mannequins Styled in Pucci Blouses for Photographing. Kerry Taylor Auctions, London. Photograph by author.

Last Summer I received the opportunity to complete an internship at Kerry Taylor Auctions; described on their website as ‘the world’s leading auction house specialising in exceptional fashion, fine antique costume, European, Asian and Islamic textiles’. This year, I returned to work there to help with their reoccurring ‘Vintage Fashion, Antique Costume & Textiles’ auction. This type of auction specialises in vintages pieces. Some may be damaged or stained, but can be repaired and worn again.

Fig.2: Rachel Steaming a Bridal Slip Dress. Kerry Taylor Auctions, London. Photograph by author.

As an intern, the main role is to work with another intern and assist the photographer in shooting the garments for sale, including steaming and dressing mannequins. I was fortunate to work with my friend and fellow dress history student, Rachel, and we worked together in keeping the shoot moving quickly in order to work to a deadline. This job has taught us important dress handling skills, as many of the garments have tears or dropping beads, as well as how to dress a mannequin to reflect the assets of the clothing. I utilised the knowledge learnt from my course to help understand what these assets were. For example, dresses from the eighteenth century need particular attention to ensure the silhouette is perfect. By using items such as bustles and petticoats, as well as stuffing mannequins with tissue, the desired silhouette is achieved. These tasks have complimented my degree well as it has been helpful to actually visualise a specific shape in person, rather than simply looking at pictures. This has been especially helpful during the pandemic when access to physical material has been greatly limited.

It was interesting to work in this environment during a pandemic. We have to ensure we wear our masks and maintain social distancing where possible, making certain tasks such as dressing more complicated. I was also saddened we missed the opportunity to be able to meet potential customers and have them explore the garments in the normal environment, as health measures meant only private viewings were possible and distances were kept.

This internship was a fantastic way to gain skills and work experience to add to my CV, and have the opportunity to work with professionals like Kerry and Lucy in learning what goes into producing an auction, the photographer George on how to style and shoot a garment, and Victoria on the behind-the-scenes of the business. The environment is welcoming and friendly, and they are more than willing to help with any research you may be doing.

Victorian Bodice Being Mounted onto a Tailor’s Dummy. Kerry Taylor Auctions, London. Photograph by author.

Kerry Taylor Auctions usually offer internships in the run-up to their auctions, so I would recommend following their Instagram, @kerrytaylorauctions, to find out when they’re available, as well as their website to see their archive of amazing garments!