The New Death Mask

Representing a true portrait, the death mask simultaneously memorialises life and death, offering the living a sense of connection to the dead. Following the invention of photography, the practice of creating death masks languished as a way of preserving the visage of the deceased. However, designer and architect Neri Oxman, along with the group Mediated Matter at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) have sought to revitalise the practice using new imaging technologies such as multi-material 3D printers and generative computer algorithms. The resulting posthumous portrait represents not the face of the deceased, but rather a symbolic image drawn from the cultural and religious substance of the subject, and is further inspired by archetypal art and architectural structures. Future development earmarks the capture of the microbiome of dying breath, creating a biological interface, to live within the mask long after death. This paper will investigate the transcendence of the death mask from corporeal image to incorporeal relic, considering its implications for human memory and relationality, and its potential to signal a post-anthropocentric vision of humanity.