Thalassic Masks

The Thalassic Masks project focuses on rethinking the protective mask, transforming a medical product, born in a state of emergency, into a design statement expressing contemporary identities.

Throughout the pandemic, protective masks with microbial filters increasingly became an essential device, an integration of the human body required to allow personal interactions. Commercial masks are generally adaptations of devices which were not designed for the extensive use they undergo these days. Most of the existing products are capable of performing a series of functions, but they are neither designed to engage with the urban environment nor they aspire to rethink human interactions and personal expression, as fashion products do. Beyond Covid-19, further implications of climate change and the disruption of ecological environments, such as air pollution and transformations in the atmosphere, may see protective devices become more and more an essential extension of the human body. Needed for longer than initially expected, the Thalassic project investigates how to transform and upgrade these products. The objective then becomes to interpret and express new pandemic and post-pandemic identities, as well as rethink the relationship between technology, in the form of wearable objects, and the human body.

This project has been carried out within the framework of Re-FREAM, part of the EU funded STARTS Programme (Science + Technology + Arts). The framework focuses on the future of urban manufacturing of fashion by combining innovative manufacturing techniques such as additive manufacturing, electronics, traditional textile processes, eco-innovative finishing together with social and environmental values to create a new value chain for the fashion industry. The Thalassic design team is composed by artists Filippo Nassetti and Vincenzo Reale, in collaboration with Stratasys, Empa, Haratech and Creative Region Linz and Upper Austria.

Inspiration for the project was drawn from looking at marine forms, thus the name Thalassic, as something belonging to the depth of the sea .  Organisms such as jellyfishes, corals, sea anemones, thanks to features of their own body are capable of filtrating water and extract oxygen and nutrients. They act as biological filters, thanks to their inner physical structure, and this way they are capable of actively modifying the environment they live in. Aquatic organisms also often rely on their deceptive appearances to hide, or pray, within the underwater environment they are immersed in. Appearances then become part of the survival strategy. The ability of filtrating the air and the environment through structure to a molecular level, such as natural organisms do, is generally very difficult to achieve with just a simple garment. However, thanks to technologies such as 3D printing, it is now possible to define structures in an extremely precise and controlled manner. In Thalassic, thanks to the 3D printing techniques provided by Stratasys® (Stratasys J850TM 3dFashionTM). This way layer after layer, 3D printed Polymer material was deposited on a very fine chiffon fabric, with the amount of flexibility, colour and structure finely controlled by digital models. Thermal studies of the different human head areas have been carried out by Empa, partner of the project. The content of these maps was interpreted by digital algorithms allowing to adapt the distribution of the material on top of the garment, and modifying the inner structure and its property in order to augment the functionality of the resulting pieces. The ability to combine advanced digital design and manufacturing techniques, with the support data coming from experimental research, allowed Thalassic to develop biomimetics methods, to emulate logics of natural systems and apply them to develop novel products.

To some extent, this collection of masks can be seen as a possible form of human evolution, shaped not by the slow process of biological changes, but by the extension and augmentation of the body through technology and the design of functional tools. As the pandemic is changing the world, our identities, reflected in what we wear every day, are affected by that. In that sense the scope of the Thalassic Masks project goes beyond the products themselves, but it is a reflection on how our lives are transformed by the dramatic and sudden global events of these years.