Inside CAS

College of Arts and Sciences


Face.Age: An ArtScience Collaboration

Friday, May 13, 2016


Article and Photo by Emma Wilcox '16

Imagine you sat down and had a conversation with a complete stranger who was significantly older than you. How would that conversation go? Would you learn from each other? Would you inspire each other? Would you break down stereotypes? UNCW Department of Film Studies chair and professor David Monahan and Andy Belser, former Department of Theatre chair, were interested in figuring out just how a conversation like that would go.

Belser, who is currently at Penn State, approached Monahan about working on a project that explored perceptions of aging. He wanted to utilize techniques he uses with actors in order for these strangers to develop a sense of intimacy and to explore the interactions between younger and older generations. Both Belser and Monahan set out to explore this topic in their pilot version of Face.Age, back in 2014. From the pilot they have expanded to what Face.Age is today.

Face.Age is a three-screen installation, in which there are three videos all synced and edited together to create one unified piece of art. The idea is, quite literally, to place the viewer in the middle of the conversation. Both Belser and Monahan believe in the importance of getting individuals from different generations to converse about their lives because they have a lot to learn from each other. Monahan says, “Younger people’s lives are all about potential yet for older people it is all about perspective…and there is a divide but there is also a real need to connect.”

The project started by gathering people from diverse walks of life and sitting them down, just to talk. With help form their then student producers, Mary Schweers and Sarah Flores, the team reached out to nursing homes and the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute in order to gather older participants. They looked for additional participants by posting on websites and even doing interview, in the end they ended up with 11 participants in total. The beginning process of the participants getting to know one another, David and Andy showed the subject an image of whom they would be talking to in order to get their initial opinions of the other person. They did this so that when they put the two individuals together “they could realize how shallow those perceptions really were.” Through the conversations that these individuals had, it opened up the eyes of both the older and younger subject to their own experience with aging, mortality, and memory. Monahan says that one of the main reasons he is drawn to this project is that “aging is universal, and it is a subject that everybody experiences.”

Through this installation Monahan hopes that the audience will re-engage with the idea of aging. Ideally this film will show audiences that aging is not something to dread, but a step in life that should be embraced and Belser has hopes that it will encourage those who see the installation to go out and recreate a similar experience and re-engage themselves with those on the opposite end of the aging spectrum.

The long-term goal of the installation is to add an interactive component. It will be centerpiece of a traveling exhibition through Penn State, and then will continue on to be expectantly be a part of museum exhibits as well as symposiums and conferences that are centered on aging. Hopefully down the road when this instillation comes to an exhibit, there can be a place for community members to be facilitated in this same sort of exercise with others from varying age groups. This installation is meant to be entertaining for the audience but also to help them to reconnect with themselves and their place in the world as well as those individuals they have lost touch with over time.