Tuesday, May 7, 2024

The Paper Bag People: An Interactive Art Experiment

 Why is the effect so visually and cognitively intriguing and puzzling when a human puts a paper bag on their head? I have been intrigued by this for years, and point to the best existing example I can think of that always serves as an inspiration: the Mask Series by Inge Morath and Saul Steinberg (https://www.magnumphotos.com/arts-culture/art/inge-morath-saul-steinberg-masks/).

Inge Morath and Saul Steinberg

Steinberg's drawings on the paper bag masks turned what was probably already a pretty good Manhattan dinner party into a whimsical triumph.

But it turns out no drawing is necessary. The simple act of photographing someone with a bag on their head produces magical results and uncertain reactions, with no embellishment necessary. Here are a series of photos of family and friends that illustrate this point. Note that the "da"s were originally added to the photos as a nod to dadaism, but if you say them out loud as you scroll through the photos you will find yourself humming the tune of the Vienna Waltz.

Citroen Rally

The Dada Olympics

Sushi Tuesdays

The vivarium


So why do we humans find seeing a fellow human with a paper bag on his or her head so intriguing? I turned the problem over to ChatGPT, asking it to write a one paragraph response. I believe AI has nailed it:

"Photographs of people with bags on their heads have a strange and intriguing appeal because they distort our perception of identity and individuality. By covering their faces, these images create a sense of anonymity and mystery, allowing viewers to project their own thoughts and emotions onto the subjects. It also adds an element of playfulness and absurdity, as the act of wearing a bag on one's head is often associated with whimsy and humor. The juxtaposition of this unconventional accessory with the human form creates a visually striking and thought-provoking image that challenges our preconceived notions of beauty and identity. Overall, these photographs captivate and captivate us with their enigmatic and distinctive aesthetic." - ChatGPT

It is your turn to reclaim your sense of play. If you are looking for a way to see the world or your fellow man in an altered light, grab a paperbag and have at it. 

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