Maija Tammi has used the masks as repositories of the traces left behind by the patients who wore them. These traces refer to “fear” as something most often eluded when dealing with a patient’s disease and the attempts to reassure patients during investigation and therapy. Fear is all too often irrelevant to doctors investigating or operating; yet fear relates to the meaning patients involve in having a disease, one that is open to investigation and interpretation. By confronting the photographs with a sculpture of used masks in the gallery space [image no. 13], the artist addresses the defined and undefined fears and leads the viewer from realism to phantasm, in a fantasy-like approach where the physicalities of sickness mingle with beauty poses and classical portraiture elements.
The photographs also reflect on the possibilities to understand the masks as objects manipulated in the medical practice. These objects multiply the immediate reality, they are no longer passive objects but are enacted by the practices in which they are manipulated. Different practices, different uses and different contexts will multiply the reality, since they engage the patient, the doctor, the disease/investigation (which is a procedural practice), the technology involved, the body, and one’s persona into plural relations. Radiotherapy masks are in fact the objectual expression of how knowledge is no longer understood as a matter of reference in the medical practice, but as a matter of manipulation, with numerous implications upon body politics. The handling of these masks therefore reference knowledge practices, the information of bodies, health care system organization, the shape of technologies and their political charge on the perception and self-perception of bodies and identities.
If disease is the object of biomedicine, the patient’s illness is about one’s interpretation of her or his disease, the feelings that accompany it, since what is said about the disease does not take place inside the body. Bodies speak when they are made heavy with meaning: by photographing faces wearing radiotherapy masks, Maija Tammi already references biopolitics and their power over the physical reality of bodies and identities, yet does so by also revealing how humanness exceeds psychosocial matters in all that involves feelings, interpretations, and body matters. The masks emphasize a composite identity that is the enactment of multi-layered manipulations that do and undo as a form of counteracting. The mask as an object of interaction is both reflective and deflective of one’s feelings and attitudes, constantly altering one’s state in respect to disease. It is the objectual expression of the means used to gather knowledge during diagnosis – talking, touching, cutting, seeing and interpreting – as material effects are actively sought to counter turbid, unsettling affects.
Text by Sabin Bors, January 17, 2015