Keri A. Zhang

“How to have a comfortable relationship with beauty: A tutorial”

Everything you know about beauty is wrong. This news might be alarming, but worry not — I have created a tutorial to teach you the right way to have a comfortable and healthy relationship with beauty. Naturally, this may involve destroying the concept of beauty entirely. Please ready yourself.

The visual component of my senior project is a full-length avant garde multichannel video installation, of which I have made a shorter “Gallery Edit” for group exhibition purposes. I call the full length edit the “Artist’s Cut.” The tutorial’s written transcript is viewable here. The other part of my senior project — the written component — is viewable here.

Advisors: Orkan Telhan (DSGN) and Gregory Vershbow (VLST)

Artist’s Cut (Unabridged)

My piece presented as a diptych. The highest resolution render out of the three. (6:33 duration)

Gallery Edit (Abridged)

My shortened piece presented as a diptych. (2:03 duration)

Artist Statement

This project is about beauty. Using the face as an investigation space, I problematize beauty ideals and narratives surrounding beauty as inescapably oppressive. In following this tutorial, you may or may not be confronted with the utter impossibility of its core aspiration. 

My piece is inspired by Hito Steyerl’s brilliant and discombobulating avant garde video How Not to be Seen: A Fucking Didactic Educational .MOV File. Her work is borne out of the sociopolitical complexities of being seen or unseen in an age of surveillance and “total over-visibility.” Mine is borne out of my own complex relationship with beauty. It’s overwhelming, almost sensory-overload. Exhaustion, dissonance, anger, glee, tension, frustration that beauty takes up headspace, desperation for a way out. Perhaps this so-called tutorial is a self-portrait of sorts. After all, you may very well find yourself in the position of a homunculus in my head. And by watching this tutorial, I might be in yours.

You’ll notice that even in my didactic tutorial, I’m questioning. Can you have a comfortable relationship with beauty? Can you not think about beauty? All these questions might be sardonic and goading, but they’re also genuine. At the end of all my logicking, I have reached my conclusion. Of course, you are welcome to disagree. But I dare you to logic it out yourself and give me different answer. Convince me otherwise, I wish you would.

Universals are hard to come by; however, according to evolutionary psychologist Anjan Chatterjee there are three beauty ideals that are universal. These standards have persisted millions of years, so it is all too easy to assume they will continue to do so for millions more, especially given how deeply they have taken root in our cultural psyche. 

However, no future is inevitable. We are continuously shaping ideas surrounding beauty just as ideas of beauty are continuously shaping us. What could a future of beauty look like? How might we get there? If we are anti ‘beauty-as-we-know-it,’ what are we for? What happens if we let ourselves think radically? How should we think about beauty — if at all? The questions are extremely open-ended, more than we tend to allow them to be.

In my tutorial, I teach you my conclusion: there are 0 realistic ways to have a comfortable relationship with beauty in the present. But this speculation in the midst of what feels like futility, it was still worth something. Because via speculation and radical social dreaming, not only can we conceive of alternative futures — we can also believe in them. It was worth something because via this reckoning of mine, maybe — just maybe — I can approach peace.  

 

Manifesto

Beauty Ideals are Oppression. Our liberated future necessarily demands a radical emptying-out of the meaning of Beauty as we know it. You must want it to happen. Reject attachment to your face. 

     NO to “Embrace your natural beauty,”

     NO to “Everyone is beautiful in their own way,”

     NO to “Makeup is empowerment and self-expression,”

The trajectory we are on is an illusion of freedom and will always hold us captive. Reject the seductive ideology of inclusive beauty and identity — to truly free ourselves from intersecting hierarchies of control and oppression,

     We Must Declare No One Beautiful. 

     We Must Shatter the Meaning of Beauty as we know it into Meaninglessness. 

     We Must Act Outside the Terrain originally Delimited by the System.

     We Must Operate Outside the Concept of Beauty.

Only then can we negotiate Agency and Liberation.

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