The SHE Project: Art Explores Manufactured Beauty

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Life in the cabinet timeline of a womans life 2016 kristenmwatson
Kristen M. Watson, Life in the cabinet (timeline of a woman's life), medicine cabinets, H&B products, digital print collage, vanity, vintage mirror. Photo credit: the artist

By Amy Lilly

The SHE Project, Part I, is a collaborative installation by Kristen M. Watson and Mary Admasian that grapples with the overwhelming pressure on women to look pretty in the era of social media, on view at the University of Vermont's Living/Learning Center in Burlington through October 28. Using hundreds of donated cosmetics, beauty aids, hair-dye cans and even locks of cut hair (colored and natural), the exhibit stages realistic scenes of women’s attempts to beautify themselves, mostly by Watson. Admasian’s works, often incorporating vintage mirrors, silk gauze and barbed wire, address women’s self-image and fulfillment from a less literal standpoint.

The staged scenes are both familiar and surreal. In one corner of the gallery lies a dressing table crowded with cosmetics, its mirror bristling with bottles of nail polish, titled Am I Pretty Enough Yet? Life in the Cabinet is a circa-1980s vanity with two open medicine cabinets, packed with hair, skin and nail products and collaged with social-media photos celebrating manufactured beauty. An assemblage of hair curlers, stacked like a set of industrial smoke stacks, reminds viewers of the historic reach of these pressures on women.

 
rflekt cosmetics on mirror sizes vary SHE Project 2016 Jude Domski 8
Kristen M. Watson, rəˈflekt, 2016, cosmetics ingredients list written using make up on mirror, overall dimensions approximately 60" x 240". Photo credit: Jude Domski.

This sinister note is most explicit on a back wall lined with mirrors dense with colorful handwriting. It’s a running list, on closer inspection, of the unregulated chemicals used in beauty products. Only those from A through P fit here; the rest may appear in a “Part II.” The words are difficult to read on the reflective surface, drawing the observer’s eye to his or her own face, which, if female, is likely coated in such chemicals. Admasian’s powerful Lost Innocence captures the show’s only image of unaugmented beauty: an exotic Charaxes butterfly caught between layers of netting in a barbed-wire frame.

Screen Shot 2016 10 12 at 2 02 17 PM
Mary Admasian. Eyeview. 14 x 14".

Feminism clearly informs SHE, but the artists acknowledge its influence differently in their statements. Admasian, by calling the works “femmages,” reaches back to the height of the Second Wave when artists Miriam Schapiro and Melissa Meyer coined the term in the 1970s to describe women’s uncredited contributions to collage, among other artistic endeavors. Watson, the younger of the two, wonders at the persistence of beauty expectations in “the post-feminist era.” If only.

For more information on the artists and venue directions and parking information, please visit the artists' websites: kristenmwatson.com and maryadmasianart.com


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