Dreambody: Exploring the mask at Tama One

David Briggs
Varying interpretations of masks from 21 California artists are displayed at Tama One, in Olema.   
08/11/2021

Masks go beyond the pandemic: With myriad functions and meanings, they heal, hide and preserve. In “Dreambody,” a new exhibit at Tama One, 21 artists display their interpretations of the mask. It’s the third exhibit at the Olema gallery since it opened in December 2020 in a building that survived the 1906 earthquake, leaving the door frames and windows anything but flush.

Variations of masks hang in every corner of the room, made from materials ranging from pizza boxes to dried roses and mediums spanning watercolor and papier-mâché to videography. Fennel stems, or “plant allies,” hang and stand around the room to help viewers digest “everything we’ve been through,” curator and gallery owner Gabriel Ekedal said.

“Masks are rich in so many cultures. They really bring in the dreams or the alternative or the invisible realms. And since we’ve all been masked for the pandemic, it makes sense to bring in more psycho-spiritual aspects of it and whatever magical energies want to come in,” she said. 

Ms. Ekedal's creative partner is Christine Shields, a Sacramento-based artist who is known for her portraits of concepts and individuals. She has her own interpretation of the mask on display: It’s called “Guardian Spirit” and it’s made out of papier-mâché and items collected in the desert, including pieces of a dead Joshua Tree. 

Ms. Ekedal and Ms. Shields share the work of operating the gallery. Ms. Ekedal runs the shop and exhibits, while Ms. Shields suggests makers and crafts people. Together they bounce ideas off one another. The pair shares a fascination with dreams and the collective unconscious. 

In a way, Ms. Shields’s work has always been about masks, she said: “We all wear masks, but it’s important to think about what masks can be.” Putting on a mask bridges this reality and the dream realm, she went on. The purpose of the exhibit is to bring awareness to that other realm. 

For Inverness artist Alice Gould, books capture the idea that masks are a front. The cover of every book is a mask; real story is hidden within. Like books, people must be read and understood for what’s beneath the surface. Ms. Gould’s piece is a painted book cover titled “Book Without a Body.” It’s an index, a lost book without a subject of its own: no “body.” Her piece is coupled with a poem, which she said gives her book cover a “body”—a life of humor and heartbreak. 

“Dreambody” features another piece of writing. Included in the description of a “death mask” created by Catherine Sieck is a snippet from Inverness writer Sylvia Linsteadt. The passage describes the scenario for the mask:

“Everyone bore a mask, and a taper. They were fallen stars, walking. At the front, Psyche felt the weight of her own face beneath her mother’s sweet wax.”

Ms. Sieck, a Potter Valley-based artist, made the piece three years ago after her mother’s passing. Titled “Her Face Lives in Mine Now,” it’s a beeswax casting of Ms. Sieck’s face, adorned with copper pieces and inspired by an old European tradition of casting a mask from a deceased relative as a memento. With the help of Madalyn Berg, a fellow artist from Santa Rosa who does body castings, Ms. Sieck “pulled” a death mask from her face and filled it with beeswax from her own hive, casting her contemporary version of a death mask.

She attached nature-oriented cyclical copper pieces to the skirt of the mask, inspired by the European tradition of sewing copper pieces onto funeral cloth or celebratory outfits.

Ms. Sieck said the next phase of the piece was inspired by her interest in the cycles of life and death. “Wax is ephemeral, it has memory,” She said. “I’m going to melt that piece into candles… It’ll be a new period of rest for that mask.”

 

“Dreambody” runs through August at Tama One, open Thursdays through Sundays from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. at 9960 Shoreline Highway, in Olema.