Sunday, 31 January 2010

Bowery as Cosmetic Icon

Please read Leigh Bowery's Immaculate Conception in Frieze Magazine, it clearly manifests many of the concerns that I have been pondering in my journey of discovering the face as canvas. Bowery as cosmetic icon is clearly an early influence on how I conceive the face to be considered, where conventional Westernized beauty ideals are dissolved on the journey to discovering how to position ourselves in a future that holds cosmetic technology via the surgeons scalpel as God.

The New Playground is the Face

Alex Box
Pat Mcgrath at Dior
Alex Box

February Vogue UK is always an interesting mix of articles, on the one hand there is the new New Season, new collections to look forward to unveiling, on the other hand there is the hangover from Christmas, where we readers despair about our weight, our wardrobe and our bank balance. However the Editor's Letter by Alexander Shulman signalled something that is beginning to stir in the minds of the fashion consumer, the trend of the return to make-up. She says,

"Of course, make-up has forever been part of a woman's arsenal, but the enthusiasm for high-voltage, in your face details, such as eye-lash extensions and sweeping eyeliner, carmine-red lips and green nails, is new. Forget about doing either the eyes or the lips - it's pile-it-on time now. No longer is make-up about looking natural; now it's about the more-embellished-and-obvious-the-better..."

In an article later in the magazine, aptly titled 'The Return To Make-Up', Lisa Armstrong identifies women who now find the use of make-up 'liberating', and have a sense of 'experimental abandon' not found within their wardrobe choices. She quotes Terry Barber, director of make-up artistry at MAC,
"In this country, make-up trends often start as working class reactionary movements - whether it's glam rock or punk, make-up is a statement as much as a beautifier."

He also mentions that "Technology has moved on so much" and that the "whole process is just much easier and more mischievous". Barber might be referring to improving on the image of perfection, but it serves to highlight general attitudes to how we see the face. It has become the new playground, one where we can choose to examine how we portray identity in much the same way the fashion deconstructionists choose to create deconstructed clothes that are meant to be discomforting, even jarring, to behold.

Non Gendered Make-Up

Platonov Pavel

I am beginning to question whether the burgeoning use of cosmetic construction of the face and body by designers and artists is symptomatic of the sense of dissatisfaction we have with our physical appearance as a result of being bombarded with images of perfection by the mass media. Is the practice of using the face as a canvas a strategy that enables us to exercise a degree of control over our circumstances where there are very few other opportunities for self realization? Contrary to the notion of the use of cosmetics as oppressive, it is clear that those who engage in using it outside the boundaries of 'normal' application see the sense of empowerment that it can elicit and that the use of artificial constructed 'cosmetic' faces and bodies seen so far have gone some ways to contravene established norms of beauty.

Used as a tool to subvert dominant patriarchal ideals of beauty, designed cosmetic bodies have the potential to be used to stage new non gendered identities. Refashioning the face and body opens up the possibility of highlighting the artificial nature of beauty while undermining neo-romantic conceptions of the body as 'natural'. Although conventional make up practices present the altered face as natural, it is possible to envisage the normalising of cosmetic practice that actively seeks the artificial construction of the face.

Similarly, in Women and the Knife: Cosmetic Surgery and the Colonization of Women's Bodies, Morgan argues that cosmetic surgery can be employed in a subversive way by demonstrating the artificial nature of the body. She proposes the use of cosmetic surgery to produce what culture constitutes as 'ugly' so as to destabilize the 'beautiful'. The advent of new biotechnologies such as IVF, genetic engineering and cosmetic surgery has provided us with the capacity to intervene in and refashion our bodies, radically changing our perception of the body, matched equally with the ability to alter our perception of the body through the lens. Subsequently the body is increasingly coming to be regarded as a social, cultural and fashion construct, capable of radical transformation.

Friday, 29 January 2010

Davide Faggiano - Beautiful Ugly

What is normally perceived as ugly now throws into question what is traditionally considered as beautiful.

While technology makes it possible to refashion the 'natural' human body through cosmetic surgery, there is also the potential for gender boundaries to be blurred or reconstructed, in turn radically redefining who we are. The 'cosmetic' work offered by new artists, photographers and designers often emphasises the artificiality of beauty, the images presenting the viewer with new forms of embodiment that defy gender identity. It is possible that this refashioning of beauty, as evidenced by the anti aesthetic of work of artists such as Davide Faggiano, is used as a way of challenging patriarchal conceptions of beauty, and highlights the fact that gender is a performance rather than a biologically determined given. The techniques and procedures used by the cosmetic creatives only serves to magnify the role crafted practices play in the construction of identity, as opposed to the relatively recent use of technology and surgical techniques favoured by so many.

SPEECH from davide faggiano on Vimeo.

Wednesday, 27 January 2010

Gender, Technology and Female Identity

Lynn Hershman is one of the most influential artists working in the areas of gender, technology and identity today. Hershman works in photography, video, photo-collage, and multi-media interactive installations. Issues surrounding female identity are at the forefront of Hershman’s work and she links these issues to our continued relationship with technology. Another key theme is the notion of privacy in the era of surveillance, a topic well-illustrated by her Phantom Limb Photographs.

Fernand Fonssagrives

The Michael Hoppen Gallery is currently exhibiting the of work of the fashion photographer Fernand Fonssagrives. On until 6th March 2010.

Linder Sterling

A radical feminist and a well-known figure of the Manchester punk and post-punk scene, Linder was known for her montages, which often combined images taken from pornographic magazines with images from women's fashion and domestic magazines, particularly those of domestic appliances, making a point about the cultural expectations of women and the treatment of female body as a commodity. Many of her works were published in the punk collage fanzine Secret Public, which she co-founded with Jon Savage. One of her best-known pieces of visual art is the single cover for Orgasm Addict by Buzzcocks (1977), showing a naked woman with an iron for a head and grinning mouths instead of nipples.

"At this point, men's magazines were either DIY, cars or porn. Women's magazines were fashion or domestic stuff. So, guess the common denominator - the female body. I took the female form from both sets of magazines and made these peculiar jigsaws highlighting these various cultural monstrosities that I felt there were at the time."

Sterling’s work – often using images of naked women, their faces obscured by domestic appliances – has continued to embrace feminist politics. In the Pretty Girlphotomontage series from 1977 she used images from porn magazines. During the 1980s, she made a montage from images of herself, entitled Myself as a Found Object, in which she covered her face with plastic or placed a fragment of another face on top of her own.

Sterling has never described herself as a feminist but her images scream in protest at the repression of women. They also play with notions of identity, ideas developed by artists such as Cindy Sherman.

Tuesday, 26 January 2010

An honest approach

Experimenting with the face and body, (often the images are self portraits), Betsy VanLangen incorporates numerous materials as a source of inspiration, displacing materials and objects so that they evolve into new tactile surfaces and elicit surprising sensations. Here it is clear that the possibilities for discovering new surfaces for the face and body are endless, the choice of materials is quite simplistic at times, but the variation in applications is vast, and engages the viewer with a new understanding of how the materiality of these substances can be applied in numerous ways without resorting to appearing too cliched.

Some female artists use their work as a means of re-representing female identity and deconstructing prevailing cultural expectations of femininity. These photographs portray struggles over women’s identity, and like many of the artists and designers already featured on this blog challenge the notion of fixed gender representation.

Monday, 25 January 2010

Considered But Not Contrived

Le Creative Sweatshop
is the result of the encounter between Ndeur and Make a Paper World in January 2009: a conceptual agency based of modern communication means and mediums, through the lens of the DIY culture, working on volume and space scenography. The Mamz'hell cover created in May 2009 elicits a crafted reponse to the face as canvas, in a way that is considered but not contrived.

Without being directly related, when looking at the work of Andrée-Anne Dupuis-Bourret, I feel that I am beginning to move closer to the essence of my visual enquiry, ways of re imagining the surface of the face and body, without restictions and without consideration of probable end use. So is this design or is it art?