Neri Oxman creates 3D-printed versions of ancient death masks

Alice Morby
Favorites

Neri Oxman and her Mediated Matter group at MIT Media Lab have created a series of colourful death masks that explore the transition between life and death.

Designed in collaboration with 3D-printing company Stratasys, the Vespers collection is made up of three series of five death masks.

The first series to be released is named Present. Conceptually, it is the second in the three series, and it aims to prompt discussion about the transition period between life and death.

The first collection – which is yet to be released – will look to the natural world, while the final instalment revolves around rebirth.

"The custom of the death mask in the ancient world was believed to strengthen the spirit of the deceased and guard their soul from evil spirits on their way to the afterworld," Oxman told Dezeen.

"Vespers masks five imaginary martyrs," she added. "Each martyr is memorialised three times, through sequential interpretations at three different moments: the past, the present and the future" Each mask was formed using a Stratasys Objet500 Connex3 multi-material 3D printer, which constructs 3D forms by depositing polymer droplets in layers.

For the project, the team created custom software that allowed them to model high-resolution and complex shapes based on data.The shapes and colours of the five masks in the second series are derived from the shapes and colours of the first series, which are made from natural minerals. The colourful swirly layers are inspired by one of Oxman's previous masks, named Lazarus, and are intended as a reference to the wearer's last breath.

"Combined, the three series represent the transition from life to death, or death to life depending on one's reading of the collection," said Oxman. "The inner structures are entirely data driven and are designed to match the resolution of structures found in nature.""Expressed through changes in formal and material heterogeneity – from discontinuous to smooth, from surface to volume, from discrete to continuous – this series conveys the notion of metamorphosis."

The Vespers death masks were created for The New Ancient Collection by Stratasys, which is being curated by Naomi Kaempfer.Oxman's masks debuted at the opening exhibition of London's new Design Museum. Named Fear and Love, it explores a spectrum of issues that define our time and also includes installations by OMA and Hussein Chalayan.

Vespers is the latest 3D printing research project from the Mediated Matter group. Previous research includes 3D-printed "wearable skins" designed to facilitate synthetic biological processes, and investigations into how to use silkworms to print architectural structures.

Photography is by Yoram Reshef.

Members of the Mediated Matter Group, and affiliates, who have contributed to this work include Christoph Bader, Dominik Kolb, Rachel Smith, Sunanda Sharma, James Weaver and Neri Oxman.

Neri Oxman creates 3D-printed versions of ancient death masks