Eric Gottshall wants to make the familiar unfamiliar. The Portland-born, NYC-based artist creates FACE (Facilitating Analogue Cerebral Exploration) Units: strange, head-swallowing helmets that wearers put on in order to distort the senses. Why would one do this?
According to Eric, in an increasingly tech-driven world, we’re losing a connection to our immediate surroundings. So, using a combination of mirrors, periscopes, and fiber optic cables, Eric turns his helmets into escapes from a mundane reality. Everyday objects become totally alien to the wearer and give the wearer a fresh vantage point from which to view their anxieties.
CONVICTS caught up with Eric to get his word on the FACE Units. With calm intellect, Eric explained his avant-intentions for the mask, the importance of total immersion, and the competitive energy unique to New York City.
How’s it going Eric. To start, tell us about your FACE Units.
FACE stands for Facilitating Analogue Cerebral Exploration. The helmets are designed to be faux psycho-therapy devices, designed so people can reconnect with themselves and their environment, or augment realities that I like to induce, in ways they never thought were possible.
Why do people need to get this new, warped view of the world?
It could be because they’ve lost connection through digital means of interaction. They’re playing video games on a daily basis, on social media constantly, they’ve lost the ability to have a true analogue connection with anything around them.
Hear that. Tell us about some of the different FACE Units?
I have fourteen helmets at this point. Vouyer Vision forces you to stare at your genitalia. It gives you a tiny little sliver of view in front of you, so whatever you’re confronting in your immediate surroundings is immediately juxtaposed against a picture of your genitalia. And if there is any insecurity there with your sexuality — your masculinity or your femininity, or just your outward identity, if that’s something you’re grappling — you are forced to directly confront it in that moment.
Can you tell us about some of the other units?
There’s Foresight, which is an ironic title because it only lets you look at the small patch of ground circumventing your feet. So this helmet in particular forces you to stare directly at your feet. It gives you a two foot wide by eight inches deep of field of view that flips your feet around on themselves, so suddenly your left foot becomes your right foot, your right foot becomes your left foot and it looks like they are walking into you. It’s amazing how quickly the brain adapts to this. You’d think within five minutes somebody would be puking on themselves in this helmet. But in reality I’ve worn it for over an hour and you truly start to gain the tools of navigation after about ten or fifteen minutes. It completely changes the relationship people have with others around them. Suddenly people are sort of this ethereal energy that you can’t see unless their feet or hands pass underneath the lense.
So what’s the ultimate goal of these helmets?
The ultimate goal? It’s not a physical outcome, but I want whoever is inside the helmet to completely submit to whatever perceptual constraints I’m putting upon them for a brief duration. So, if for instance I’m putting people in Digital Vision — which only allows you to look through fiber optic cables attached to your fingertips — I really want the person inside of the helmet to take time and let their brain adjust to that reality. Then you need to take that intuition and manifest it physically. If that means getting down on all fours and crawling across the floor and observing ya know, a green blade of grass or a red coke bottle cap, then so be it.
What about the helmets’ anxiety inducing qualities? Talk about your own experience inside the helmets.
So I took a helmet out into Union Square and there was a rally going on. Tensions were high and I just put the helmet on and started walking around Union Sq staring at my feet and verbalizing everything I was seeing. More often than not, the words coming out of my mouth were about my own insecurities about how totally random and bizarre I looked in the middle of this urban landscape. My own insecurities as an artist started coming out. I started wondering why I was making these helmets and if they would be successful. Every doubt in my mind started to manifest when I was inside of the helmet and it was the culmination of being constrained in a small space and having my vision altered, but it was also the thought that I was manifesting my own artwork and didn’t know if I was doing it right. When I’m inside the helmets it all gets very fuzzy. But somehow when I’m outside of the helmets it starts to reveal itself in more of an understandable way.
How did you begin making these helmets?
I started making these helmets during my undergrad out of a want to capture some qualities within the works of other artists that just left my jaw on the floor every time I saw them. I looked at methods of creating formulas and creating simple illusions that completely alter our physical engagement with a space. I wanted manifest those two qualities in an object that both mobilizes the concept of constant perceptual change and takes the element of creating a formula and incorporating the human body, rather than a mode of drawing or painting. The helmets were the logical outcome of that.
So no experience in the helmet is the same?
I can put anybody in these helmets. Even if I put the same performer inside the helmet twenty times, each performance is gonna be entirely unique unto itself. The things that these performers discover about themselves and the insecurities they feel are going to change every single time they put the helmet on.
Right on. Switching gears a bit, can you tell us about yourself?
I was born in Portland, Oregon, in 1990. Grew up in a small neighborhood and was always kind of the awkward outcast, as many artists find themselves at young age. High school was total shit. It was so bad that I made the decision that I was gonna go to New York and never come back. Went to FIT for college, which was a great experience. It gave me all the tools I needed to light a fire under my ass and pursue art for the foreseeable future.
So did you grow up in a creative environment?
Yeah so growing up in Portland Oregon with my mom, Cindy, and my dad, John, they were both high advocates of the art world. My dad has been a photographer my entire life. And my mom, although she wouldn’t necessarily call herself an artist, she’s one of the most fantastically, eccentric, creative people I’ve ever known. So my whole life there has never really been any push back on my art. I mean I’ve been so fortunate to have two parents that saw the fire burning inside me. My girlfriend, Emily, is like 100% the person that lets me know that I’m not just a total joke on a daily basis. I would’ve probably moved out of this city a long time ago if it wasn’t for her.
Talk about New York, and ‘making it’ as an artist here?
Validation is a concept that has haunted me for years now. It’s a concept in this city that seems ever present because there are thousands of people just like me, coming out of school with fire burning under their ass who are thinking they’re gonna be the next great sculptor, painter, performance artist, whatever. There’s literally more people than you can count just like me. Yet there’s an opportunity in this city to grasp energy moving at light speed that just doesn’t exist anywhere that I have ever been in my life.
Hear that Eric. Thanks for the chat.