Facing Artifacts • PARKEOLOGY

Performance + Installation     3.27.2016    Museum of man, SAN DIEGO, CA


Image credit: Camille Laut + Clark Bledsoe


175 years after 80% of people indigenous to Alta and Baja California were eradicated by the Spanish mission system, anthropologists working for the U.S. National Museum (now the Smithsonian Institution National Museum of Natural History) began to catalogue and differentiate the rapidly disappearing native peoples of the West in the name of science. In the case of physical anthropologist Aleš Hrdlička, his work even reached popular culture in the Exposition grounds. Jointly supported by the Panama-California Exposition, Hrdlička produced plaster life casts of members of Native American tribes, as well as many other people of color for an exhibit that identified Europeans as the most evolved race. 

We responded to the Hrdlička collection at the San Diego Museum of Man for Parkeology's Facing Artifacts. A life casting station was headquartered in the museum rotunda and we invited the public to loan their faces to the collections of the Museum of Man. Based on a lottery system, selected participants had their face covered in alginate, transformed into plaster, and temporarily loaned to the museum as an artifact.

Beyond salting wounds of colonial violence, this project became a one-on-one sensory experience. Plaster face casting is an intense process: everything is covered: ears, mouth and eyes. The experience takes 30 minutes and requires trust in the casting technician. Facing Artifacts provided an experience that was the inverse of quickly profiling and objectifying another human. Faces collected from this day-long even were displayed alongside this exhibition, alongside the 1915 face casts.


Contemporary face casts on display for the exhibit "In Dust We Trust" at the San Diego Art Institute

Contemporary face casts on display for the exhibit "In Dust We Trust" at the San Diego Art Institute

Along with signing release and liability forms, Face Donors completed subjective questionnaires before their faces were cast.



Production Team

Creative Director: Kate Clark
Face Casting Technicians: Jerry Blackman, Kate Clark
Marketing and PR Support: Marina Grize and the San Diego Art Institute
Face Casting Assistants: Diana E. Benavidez, Jeremy Raab
Face Casting Support: Daniel Hathaway
Museum Interpreter and Press Contact: Elizabeth Sutton,  Jessica McPeak
Reception: Peter Chen and Ashley Moy
Portrait Documentarian: Camille Laut
Harpist: Meghan Elizabeth Orr
Stills Documentation: Clark Bledsoe
Project Liaison and Reception: Alena Vasquez
Channel Parkeology Guest: Gwyn Isaac, Smithsonian Museum of Natural History Curator
Channel Parkeology Video, Editing, Direction: Ren Ebel
ParkCast: Sound, Editing and Direction: Parker Bray

Museum of Man Staff support
Karen Lacy, Collections Manager
Emily Anderson, Director of Exhibit Development
Audrey Chang, Project Director
Kelly Williams, Director of Collections
Sarah Crawford, Exhibit Developer
Kara Vetter, Registrar
Jason Porter, Director of Education and Public Engagement
Yadira Jaramillo, MoM Custodial Staff
Consuelo Hernandez, MoM Custodial Staff

Face Casting Models
Jan Wallden
Dianne Berg
Catherine Cheng
Anthony A. Labue
Captain Burnett
Carter Lee Burnett
Jessica Kohley
Mary Jeong
Carina Novik
Philip E. Church
Nikki Nee
Megan Adcock
Marilyn Rudoff
Melissa Lynn Haeffner
Gordon L. Permann II
Margaret Williams
Gwyneira Isaac
Samantha Alberts
Katty Ibarra

Thanks to Kim Duclo and Carina Weber