Jiangnan Hou is a new media artist based in New York. After five years of working experience in design and VJ prior to Parsons, she is now working on multidisciplinary art projects using generative art tools and creative coding.
The Beaks is a short VFX film that employs interactions with handmade masks to both reflect and intervene in moments of broken communication. The masks and the people who activate them serve as symbols for the inevitability of misunderstanding, especially in the time of the pandemic, and the creative potential underlying these points of confusion.
In the middle of a world crisis and political chaos in 2020, I was having a hard time understanding and communicating with my closest community. As an international student within a cross-cultural communication context, I was confronted by the ways in which differing perceptions can create various forms of disconnect. Drawing from my own experience, I was motivated to create a positive change through the vehicle of compassion and empathy.
The film was originated from a series of handmade "beak masks" I created. A beak is meant for speaking, but a mask could also block, muffle or distort your voice. It creates a space to allow for both misunderstanding and understanding. The dependency for a face covering nowadays has almost made the mask a prosthesis. The experience of wearing a beak mask is also questioning the idea of adding an extra limb as a new norm of our communication today. After a couple of months of experiment in mask making, I decided to use digital technologies to bring this project to the next level: I self-directed, filmed, post-produced and scored a VFX featuring myself with those masks.
(Handmade beak mask prototypes.)
In the film, four masked characters walk through their own tunnels, each creating a world that represents a moment of broken communication. They are Thrust, Skins and Bones, Breath and Twist. They struggle with their insecurity, distrust, vulnerability and suppression from their inner selves, and externalize into the beaks--an extension of the body as well as a mask that blurs your expression.
In making this project, I want to invite people to experience misunderstanding as it is. By encountering confusion, discomfort or conflict, I want my audience to acknowledge the inevitability of misunderstanding and to rethink the role of it in our day-to-day communication and perception. It’s also a healing process for myself and those who have been misunderstood, whose voice got lost in the chaos and who’s too scared to open up and speak up.