This is the prologue from the book 365 Masquerades – Every day is a masquerade by Gisela Fleischer.
Buy the book here!
I got the idea to make 365 Masquerades on December 26, 2013. Every day during 2014 I would turn myself into a new and different character. I would attend 365 masquerades in 365 days.
I never hesitated to make reality of this somewhat enormous art project. On the contrary, I felt excited. 45 minutes after the moment I got the idea, 365 Masquerades already had a web domain and accounts on social networks. With so little time left until Day 001 (January 1), it may seem like a crazy thing to go ahead and do. The idea may have struck me like lightning – however, I’m not at all surprised that it did.
My idea was a direct consequence of a deeply rooted personal urge to explore the seemingly endless range of visual expressions possible for the human body. We could be versatile, yet most people (including myself) create a truth of what makes us think ‘this is me, but that is not me’. To cross the lines of the identity borders could be weird, pretentious, silly, scary or even wrong. If doing so, you would be forced out of your comfort zone, thus risking to challenge your illusion of who you are. And yes, that’s what it is – an illusion.
I believe we never just are. There is no default personality. But with the use of visions of what we would like to be, and distinctions towards others, we all create our own illusions of ourselves. We are affected by our prejudices, by the society we live in, and most of all – we are shaped by beauty and lifestyle ideals, and from what social codes and the media constantly tell us what we should like be in order to be accepted. Most people seem careful to fit into that weird category of the normal, as if leaving it isn’t even an option. Is fear of being different obstructing us from exploring what we can also be, and thus potentially are?
For me, 365 Masquerades served as an opportunity to face my own personal illusions. It became a platform on which I could explore any feelings of fear, joy, excitement or creative problem solving I was faced with by changing appearances for 365 days in a row. Regularly leaving my comfort zone to explore my own ‘not me’ made me critically question the ‘me’. I also found myself reflecting consciously more than before on identity, gender roles, art, stereotypes, performativity, what is and what is not considered normal.
The other day I was asked: “Do you feel now like you’ve shattered your self-image completely, after a whole year of constant change?” “Oh no”, I replied. “On the contrary, I feel that this project may have been more about acting out sides of my personality which were already there, than about trying on characters completely separated from myself.”
Is it possible to create something that does not already exist, to some degree, in your conscious or unconscious mind? I don’t believe so. And if it’s not – does it mean there are other possible ways of expressing ourselves, waiting to be either explored or ignored? If we indeed have these possibilities – why don’t we experiment more with ourselves, using the playfulness of change?
I’m thinking again about ‘me’. After 365 Masquerades I feel that I don’t have one. At least there’s no static, change immune and written in stone ‘me’. We all have different illusions of who we are, but we also share the possibility of exploration beyond the self-constructed borders of what we believe we are. We should allow ourselves to play more with visual expression and identity. And we should definitely care less about trying to be ‘normal’. Something constructed has always been constructed by someone. Normality is not a truth – it’s an illusion, a very much constructed one.
Something interesting happens to me every time I transform my body’s surface. Just by putting on clothes, makeup and hair I don’t usually wear, I find myself acting, walking, sitting and behaving in different ways. The difference is big enough to notice, but at the same time I can clearly recognize that I’m still being myself. I’m Gisela, with added layers. Not only do I transform my surface – layers of change appear on a deeper level as well.
So, did 365 Masquerades tear my identity completely apart, leaving me confused of who I am?
More than ever before, I know now what I can be.