EL SERENO, Calif. — Being encased in plaster is not the most welcome experience, but it’s all part of artist Lilli Muller’s process as she explores the feelings of isolation during the age of COVID.

Today, her longtime friend Jedidia Dyer volunteered to be body cast and though the session starts out well, it doesn’t take long for anxiety to kick in.

“Are you getting… hyperventilated?” asked Muller after sensing her subject’s change in emotion.

“Yeah,” said Dyer.

Thankfully, Muller knows how to handle it.

“Well, what we can do is make a half-mask,” she said.

“I’m very claustrophobic,” replied Dyer.

“I think a lot of people get very very antsy because they just feel very locked down, locked in and claustrophobic,” said Muller. “You feel very alone and very separated from other human beings.”

And that according to Muller, goes against our very nature and it’s the reason why she forces subjects to endure a very primal fear.

“I think this is a time where even though we are locked down and we can’t really be social in the way we used to be, we’re finding different ways of still socializing,” said Muller.

Muller has been bodycasting live subjects for the last 30 years. After growing up in Germany, she decided to see the world and look for a more visceral approach to sculpture. After landing in Southern California, she discovered working with gauze fit her style and approach.

“We as people are patchwork,” explained Muller. “We are made of so many experiences. Everybody has different ones. They are sometimes related to each other and sometimes they are happening at different times in their lives, but we all go through very similar things in different ways.”

It’s in these differences of experiences Muller finds commonality. After 30 minutes, the plaster has hardened and it’s an experience Dyer won’t easily forget.

“It was kind of a good practice and good therapy for my claustrophobia because I didn’t take medication today to calm me. I usually do. I said no, I can do this. And now I’m glad I did it,” said Dyer.

It’s an art form that not only creates sculptures modeled after people, but a process that manifests into self-realization derived from an intimate connection between artist and subject.

“And it does something psychologically that just opens them up,” said Muller. “I guess it’s because you’re so vulnerable under the cast. That you, first you go inward and it calms you down. And then you feel almost free. It’s a very life altering experience for some people.”