This blog has variously, depending on my mood, been about comics, video games, and my various academic concerns, and most recently that has turned into my writing about art that I’ve cared about on the internet. For a quick recap, stuff I’ve cared about recently would be A Cups Podcast, Ann Hirsch’s performance art, Darius Kazemi’s new bot, and now Jenn Culp’s “Makeup Mondays.”
Jenn (I’m familiar because I know her) has been doing her makeup in some interesting way every Monday for a little more than a year now. That’s the core conceit–she’s just doing her makeup. On the surface, “Makeup Monday” is yet another instance of photo-a-day or photo-a-week projects that seemingly everyone cool was doing five years ago; with the creation of Instagram and the concept of iPhonetography, it is ubiquitous with smartphone ownership (I don’t want to suggest that it is now accessible and possible for everyone. On the contrary, the capability to make this art is still locked behind an economic wall for a your average person–it is just more common now than it was five years ago.)
The form of “Makeup Monday” isn’t what gets me excited–it’s the content (although these things are always mashed together in a way.) Jenn writes in an amazing post on the tumblr:
Life is much more satisfying when I feel like a wizard who has the power to control and alter the fabric of reality, and never do I feel more like a wizard than:
1. When I am in the act of creating or have just finished creating an object from simple raw materials. (e.g. Behold! I have taken heat and a hammer to this sheet of copper and now it is a large serpentine neckpiece!)
2. When I use cosmetic products to alter my appearance.
This aesthetic alchemy is what I’m interested in. On one level, Jenn is doing an amazing project that solidifies what a significant amount of feminist art has meditated on over the last thirty years–makeup is literally a process of making up a self. Makeup is a subjectivation machinem and it can be liberating or violently oppressive depending on how it is deployed, depended on, and applied. Anyone who has ever worn makeup in their life is nodding and saying “of course” under their breath so I’m going to skip to the second level, the one that I find a little more interesting.
On this second level, “Makeup Mondays” is a project of Jenn making herself inhuman. This isn’t every picture–I don’t want to suggest that wearing makeup makes someone less or more than human–but rather that some of the “sketches” that Jenn deploys on herself are actively pushing outside of the aesthetic space that we normally associate with humans. And I love it.
I know that there’s a human there–I know there’s an indexical Jenn Culp living somewhere and doing things–but the images themselves have particular lives. Jenn uses the language of “sketches” to talk about her work, and I’ve even used it above, but I’m not sure that “sketch” captures what is happening for me. I feel like Jenn is crafting a fiction in a frame with her body, using glitter and dye and skin to generate something wonderful for a moment. Then it goes away. That’s the inhumanity of it for me–there’s a synthetic, cooperative body between some purely aesthetic inhuman thing and Jenn’s actual body. She becomes written on, becomes with an image or an idea.
Addendum: I don’t enjoy cosplay or looking at cosplay. I feel like there’s either too much artifice (“Isn’t it funny that I am this thing!?”) or too much seriousness (someone being in-character the whole time), and as someone who experiences an immense amount of anxiety around people acting near me and people being ironic around me, cosplay has just never fit for me. But “Makeup Monday” isn’t on either end; I don’t feel like I can ever see “behind the curtain,” and I don’t ever feel like Jenn is being too self-serious. There’s a playfulness about them, a total acceptance, and nothing-being-forced that is truly amazing to see.
So go here to look at “Makeup Mondays“