Nina Conti Artsnight

Nina Conti

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Also, we should say this programme does contain strong language.


Ladies and gentlemen, please welcome your host for tonight...


As a ventriloquist, I have encountered the power of masks.


Not only using my monkey puppet as a liberating mouthpiece


Look at her standing there, trying not to lose her mouth.


But also, in using masks on audience members and seeing how this frees


She's going to throw it into the crowd.


Hello, I'm Nina and this is my puppet, Monkey.


I am the conduit for Nina's true self.


Oscar Wilde once said, man is least himself


Give him a mask and he will tell you the truth.


Thank God you're not wearing me on your head,


I'm interested to see how disguising the self in order to set free


artistic expression is prevalent in other art forms.


What is it about masks that enable us to shed our psychological skins?


Looking at some of the bands who have used masks over


the decades, psychiatrists could have a field day.


It's so they can delight and surprise and challenge


I know this is Artsnight, Nina, but there is no need to sound


One musician who was never scared to take risks with his image


From early in his career, he used the concepts of physical


and metaphorical masks to create the characters


Ever since his 1972 album, Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders


from Mars, he adopted and adapted these, from Aladdin Sane


And as his music changed over the decades, so,


Artist Mark Wardel has immortalised some of these in a series of masks.


I borrowed a cast of David Bowie's face from a friend in


Just for my own use, really, but the V somehow saw them


and commissioned me to do an edition in conjunction with the David Bowie


exhibition and Bowie actually bought two of them for his collection.


This is inspired by a scene in The Man who Fell to Earth,


where Bowie is an alien and he goes into a lift and it cannot cope


with the pressure so his nose bleeds.


I like the graphic of the red just against plain white so I kind of use


this as a metaphor for stress, pressure.


And, obviously, there is a drugs connotation because it is quite


well-documented that he was taking a lot of cocaine and everything


at the time so there is all those connotations in it.


But apart from that, I just think that it is that


Snow White thing, the red and the white is such


Can you tell me about these masks here?


Yes, well, these actually, in light of what has recently


happened, the Bowie mask thing has taken


They almost have an air of a death mask, which they kind


So it is kind of quite strange because you almost,


Whereas one used to think you were waiting for the eyes


to open, now you kind of know they are not going to open.


What do you think the performers find appealing about wearing a mask?


It is a barrier and it's also a projection.


In a way, they're kind of hiding certain aspects of themselves behind


the mask and projecting other aspects through the mask


to the audience that they are reaching.


And it is a very interesting thing to see how performers actually


change, how their whole persona actually changes once they get


the mask on, whether it is a figurative mask or a literal mask,


whether it is cosmetics or they're actually using a mask.


And you really can see that happening as the mask goes on.


Of all the bands who have used masks, Slipknot kind of stand out


Imagine a metal band that ran away to join the circus.


But this circus was a circus of horrors.


The Grammy-winning band have been using masks on stage for 20 years.


Worldwide, they are more recognised by their fans as their masked


The masks hurt when they have them on, which is also awesome.


It just makes me horny, it makes me get off, OK?!


Artsnight caught up with lead singer Corey Taylor and percussionist


Shawn Crahan, AKA Clown, backstage in Gothenburg,


I had gotten a version of this mask when I was 14.


I just never knew why it was in my world but it was always around me.


And one day it just so happened, it was that moment of clarity,


I was there for the very first Slipknot show.


This was before I had joined the band.


It was so many different themes all at once.


It was antagonistic, it was dangerous, it was powerful,


like I had never seen a band like that before.


It was taking everything that had been done creatively,


artistically, visually, and, to me, taking it to such a different realm.


And I loved the fact that every mask was different because it represented


It wasn't all linear and just kind of thrown together.


And I really felt like everyone had put a lot of time and thought


So when I did join, after some trial and error,


it came to emboss that theory onto the mask I was wearing.


The mask for me has always been that physical representation


of the person inside me who just never had a voice.


You talk about the representation of the person on the inside.


I am showing you more than I'v ever revealed because if you take this


away, and it comes back to this, there are niceties,


there are manners and morals and rules, all of these things that


And just having to bump into other human beings, you know?


When it comes to this, you know, all bets are off.


And you can really let that animal off the chain as far as you really


None of us really know what we look like anyway.


We rely on mirrors and things like this but you cannot see


So we're all uncomfortable with our faces, we're always looking


for a better face, we're always looking to improve the eyebrows


or whatever we do, all of this crappy vanity, we never just


solidify the thought of who we are and we are always looking.


Everyone who wears a mask, embrace it because you are not


being somebody else, you're being yourself.


And the closer you can get to that middle, to getting to know that


honesty, is better for everybody because then you can


Slipknot are touring the UK between 8th and 15th February.


Masks have also been used recently in political protests,


Well, that is certainly one way of outwitting the CCTV.


The iconic mask was designed by David Lloyd for the graphic novel


The inspiration was Guy Fawkes, basically.


Because when we created V for Vendetta, the idea


was to bring him back in a sense, so he is kind of a resurrection


If you are going to resurrect Guy Fawkes, you have to use


the image of Guy Fawkes and what we know from Guy Fawkes


is basically prints of what we think he looked like.


So when you produce a mask that is supposed to look


like Guy Fawkes, you do a stylised version of it.


And that is basically where it came from.


The graphic novel was adapted for the big screen in 2005.


The film is set in an alternate future where a neofascist regime has


The screenplay for the film was written by the Wachowski


brothers, who also created The Matrix.


The movie fuelled a global interest in the graphic novel.


Can you tell me in your words what has happened to this mask?


Well, of course, it has become a piece of merchandise


It exists in the real world, now, as a symbol of protest


for all kinds of movements, from Anonymous to Occupy


and lots of political protests throughout the world,


It is good for me as an artist to see that happen because it is


something you have created that has sprung off the page.


But also I think it is great because it has become this symbol


of protest and freedom in lots of different causes.


So it has got a new life, so I am very happy about that.


Have you ever joined a protest in that mask?


No, I haven't, because I am too cynical, that's why.


I have a very cynical attitude to the possibilities


that we have in life, I have to say.


So I haven't, but I am very glad that people who are not so cynical


and who are idealistic, because without idealists


So I'm really glad that people are using that.


Vendetta was about somebody wanting to change the way things were,


to actually defeat a tyranny. And he adopts the persona


He doesn't want to do exactly what that revolutionary did,


Beneath this mask there is more than flesh.


Beneath this mask there is an idea, Mr Creedy.


It is very important to me that it represents protest


Wanting to tell people the way they should live or the way


And I think it is very important that that,


used to be this joke - no matter who you vote for,


It doesn't matter what government you get because corporations


So I'm just glad there are people around who do see the value


Thank you very much, David.


It has been really interesting to talk to you.


It's interesting to talk to you.


In America, it has been a girl thing for over 30 years.


The Guerrilla Girls, formed in 1985, use facts,


humour and striking visuals to expose discrimination


Well, they stage masked protests in the art world against racial


We are going to speak to them in New York on a Skype call.


"I'm" going to speak to them in New York.


I'm Monkey, I'm Nina's puppet, her alter ego, her mask,


What are the advantages of being an alter ego?


That's not the case with us. We're totally accountable.


We're masked avengers. Yeah? What's that like?


We've got to be outrageous, but also prove our case about issues


Using facts, humour, fake fur, our masks, etcetera.


And then your masks become your personas and you've got to be true


No one's ever asked us that before, but it's actually true.


We're us, but we're also not the real us.


And it's great to wake up in the morning and be able to choose


Your one self or your Guerrilla Girl self.


I mean, the Guerrilla Girls are just so much fun and we've been so lucky.


We've all worked so hard, everyone in our group,


all these years, on so many different issues.


And we feel really lucky that thousands and thousands


What they respond, saying, is, they want to do their own crazy kind


But to be honest, when we first took these masks we wanted


Because we were complaining about the art world which was a very


small and kind of vituperative place.


So we couldn't bite the hand that we wanted to feed us.


So it was kind of self-serving in the very beginning.


And then we realised we had tapped into something much more important


But no one knows who you really are yet?


Nobody knows and we want to keep it that way.


There have been over 55 members of the Guerrilla Girls


We are two of the founders and we have always worked with other


members and now we have new members, people coming in and out,


so there are a lot of former Guerrilla Girls out


there in addition to current Guerrilla Girls.


What do you consider your biggest achievements?


We have made it OK for people to account and criticise art


For a long time people thought the history of art was just la creme


And then we started to look at museums and


realised that they participate in institutional discrimination.


And that for a long time our history has


They can really control what is recorded in museums


And it does not come out of the art market.


Well, you know, there is a downside in that when you come up


as an artist you are used to getting credit for what you do,


so the Guerrilla Girls get the credit but our individual


We are egoless in an ego-driven world.


When you think about it, what kind of an art world


is it, that you have to wear gorilla masks to be taken seriously


Bye, you've got my Skype now, so call me again if you're feeling


Masks have been a part of global culture for years.


They enabled theatre to become more magnified and less personal.


But over time, masks have become a part of theatrical


No, his voice and face, masks ask for something deeper.


So I've come to the Trestle Theatre Company to see what that feels like.


What happens when a mask wears a mask?


Where the true self gets to express its true self?


I don't want to see you getting all weird,


Do your drama student stuff. I find it mortifying.


The Trestle Theatre Company in St Albans specialises


They work in schools, and with adults with mental health issues.


And also run their own acting workshops with masks.


Right, would you like to come and choose a mask?


I can't tell if he's smarmy or Machiavellian.


It's all in the body, there is absolutely no talking


and you don't want to eyeball your audience.


It doesn't essentially hold magical properties.


But what it does, there is something about the mask and the sense


of the imagination that gets unleashed


It's very accessible, immediate theatre.


You want to be her friend, but she doesn't want to be


This element allows you to be freer, for the imagination,


She's very upset now, did you realise that?


It is a key, somehow, to unlocking somebody to be more


Before we get into any sort of fights or anything let's say


that's how it's going to be, these two together, these two


together, excuse me, and you can turn around and you can


So is the mask a switch that enables you to enter


another persona, or is it unleashing you, what do you think it is?


The thing I felt, with having the mask


on, was that it just allowed me to forget everything else and just


It didn't feel that anything was contrived, it was just coming.


You didn't think about the acting, just get on with it.


I think it is as simple as hiding, sometimes.


You are just hidden behind something.


And it does, it's that thing that liberates you and lets


Picasso said, this is only one facet of the person I'm


There is this, this, this, and therefore you get that


And I think the mask is doing that, and it allows doors to open.


So, thinking about the half masks, the physicality thing is the same,


it's all in the body but obviously with


It is all about finding different voices that


Turn around and take your mask off then.


Lovely, that went right into your body!


The physicality of that was beautiful.


It is so enabling or befuddling, it is so


different when you put it on and then you act a certain way,


I'm thinking, can I blame that on the mask?


There is that sense of going, did I really?


It is like the one night stand gone wrong.


So, not only do masks provide us with a disguise to hide behind,


but they can unleash multiple personalities within us.


Are you ready to take your mask off now, Nina?


That's no good, the hand is still a mask.


Hello, world weather is certainly not going to behave itself during


the weekend, it will be blustery with heavy rain on the way, in fact


already to light in the south-west we will see gale force


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