The Human Reliquary - MFA Thesis

Within the Moe theater on February 18, 2017, The Human Reliquary was performed. The Moe theater is a black box theater, which is a space historically known for experimental theater practice. The original intention was to fully explore the space of the black box by hosting the audience seating in the center of the space. We instead, due to circumstance, utilized a three sided seating known as a thrust configuration. This gave a difference sense of space for the audience, which was frustrating, though it allowed ourselves as performers move more freely in this still intimate space. It was an amazing experience to learn to not only move with sound in this respect, but also to react to the other performers, sonically and physically. The three of us in character connected, disconnected and reconnected in a contradictory flow of gentle and aggressive motions.

Early in the conceptual process for The Human Reliquary, I had made a simple mask out of a paint mask and glass jars. Transferring my vocalizations through contact microphone upon the glass surface rendered droning tones that I could sustain after learning to vocalize in particular ways. The replacement of standard uses of voice and methods of communication became a large interest to how I would approach creating. This first mask, Apparatus, was a stationary tool that tethered my face to my modular synthesizer and other audio technologies. At the time I was quite influenced by artist Tristan Shone of Author & Punisher (2016) and his industrial aesthetic custom voice masks. Three different pieces for different vocal effects were created by Shone and used in live and recorded performances. Apparatus had a similar visual style to the three industrial plastics and metals that Shone used, the main difference was that Shone had mounted his pieces to a stand so he might move from one to another while I immediately preferred strapping or mounting the mask to my head and face to augment myself and become a part of my instrument. At least in a sense, I connect physically with my instruments. I have considered several times how creating something to wear and perform with is to be connected with it. When doing so, I thought of Stelarc (2017) and specifically, the Third Hand and Third Ear. His interest in truly augmenting the body for his conceptual practice and performances was not only beyond the realm of possibilities, but not any real interest of mine. In regards to interface, I am interested in the tactile and the sensations of controlling touch, which I believe bolsters my decisions for the masks. To wear one is to carry a weight and experience the sensations of that piece while visually transforming into a being morphed with its technological communication devices.


Three masks were created for The Human Reliquary. Originally to be worn only by myself, two of the three pieces were eventually fitted to the two other performers in the final form of the piece. Each mask is a foam base taken from techniques popular in cosplay. Where the initial foam is cut and patterned together into a generic superhero helmet shape. Taking this form and extending parts to completely cover the head was the starting point for each mask, afterwards they turned into unique pieces once the frames for their communication devices were installed. Though after mounting frames into each foam base, a silicon layer was added to really develop the texture and image of muscles, skin, flesh upon these mutated heads. There was plenty of effort involved in the electronics and frames put into each mask, but the silicon proved to be the most experimental of the construction process. Luckily, the supplier I utilized for the silicon also provided wonderful tutorials in the standard qualities of the material. The final visual style of the masks was not directly influenced by any particular source, but it is interesting to think of how the use of silicon granted the abstracted mutated flesh that I desired while still approaching the layers of muscle and skin in a more realist manner. They are not realistic by any means, but the process of creating a convincing texture required myself to think about the actual construction of human flesh and how it may interact with these components rooted into it. Once coated in their flesh, the masks became interconnected in a narrative amongst themselves. A narrative bound in perpetual recurrence and connected beginning to end, end to beginning was submerged within the design of the masks. It seemed so perfect to finalize the project with three masks, three characters that could embody each of Said’s problematic episodes in life. And the change from linear individual performances to a combined composition led to represent my perpetual convoluted experiences of origin, continuity, and lateness. The character narrative’s origin resides in Recovery, the beginning of motion and continuity of the performance.

Full Dress

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The three masks are interconnected through the linear narrative of transformation and interpretation of Said’s episodes. And their bodies are really designed as extensions of the masks. Where the first two both are skinned in silicone and coated in paints that flake away from the silicone as the body moves. This is the beginning of the “dissolving self” that I became interested in. Where the other bodies are coated in flesh and covered entirely, Remnant’s body is as torn and dissolved as the mask itself. I began the performance already exhausted and late. Broken and embodying the mortality that Remnant would bring to the other characters. “The last great problematic, the last or late period of life, the decay of the body, the onset of ill health or other factors that even in a younger person bring on the possibility of an untimely end” (Said, 2006). Remnant initiated the performance with a guttural inhale that morphed and blended into its own feedback loop that died away, giving breath to Recovery. In that moment, the portion of the mask covering the eyes and forehead is dropped, removing the last connection to continuity and center while retaining that connection to a beginning; the broken tube. Within removal there is connection, however. Remnant’s mask is connected to beginning and continuity through the removal and destruction of its parts. To have a negative space where the parabolic dishes once were is to be both with and without them. “Lateness for Said is ‘a form of exile,’ but even exile exists somewhere, and ‘late style is in, but oddly apart from, the present” (Said, 2006). My lateness is often a moment present in action but lost in beginning and future. This mask that I wore was to be that painful moment interacting with the symbols of beginning. We were visually tethered together through costume, instrument and movement.

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Said, E. W. (2006). On Late Style: Music and Literature Against the Grain. New York, NY: Vintage Books.

Shone, T. (2016). Dither Mask. Retrieved from

Shone, T. (2016). Drone Mask. Retrieved from

Shone, T. (2016). Mute Mask. Retrieved from

Stelarc. (2017). Third Ear. Retrieved from

Stelarc. (2017). Third Hand. Retrieved from

Michael G. Maxwell


 © Michael G. Maxwell