Event: A Panoply of Reason: Anti-Epidemic Masks as Visual and Materials Technologies

The Visual Plague project are excited to make available information about an upcoming event with Dr Christos Lynteris.

This research seminar will be hosted by the Centre for the Humanities and Medicine (CHM) at the University of Hong Kong on 25 April 2017, at 4:30pm, in the Run Run Shaw Tower on the Centennial Campus.

Prevalent today in the context of infectious disease outbreaks like SARS or Ebola, anti-epidemic masks have been employed in the last 100 years as personal protection equipment by health workers and the public. On the one hand, these devices, which range from the simple cotton face-mask to full hazmat suit-fitted apparatuses, are seen as indispensible tools in the struggle against epidemics. On the other hand, they function as potent visual symbols of biological danger faced and indeed thwarted by technological modernity. But could these aspects, the one material the other visual, be more than simply indexically connected?

This paper will explore the emergence of the anti-epidemic mask through a historical anthropological approach of its invention and material as well as visual employment in the context of the 1910-11 Manchurian plague outbreak. Asking how anthropological approaches of mask and masking may help us understand the emergence and establishment of this technology, the paper will show that the rise of the anti-epidemic mask was rooted in its configuration not simply as a guard against recently discovered bacterial or viral agents, but most importantly as a panoply of reason. Key to this process, it will be argued, was the reframing of centuries-old uses of masks in the context of plague outbreaks, dating back to the “beaked doctor” in Renaissance Italy, as steps towards “medical reason”. It was on the basis of an extensive re-inscription of visual sources relating to such early modern technologies that the anti-epidemic mask would come to be an apparatus aimed at blocking germs, and at the same time, at catalyzing a passage from unreason to reason.

More information is available in the poster below, or by visiting the CHM webpage. You can find out more about Christos’ work as Principle Investigator of the project and other future events on the blog or through the CRASSH website.

Poster(Christos Lynteris)


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