What remains when beauty is gone? This is one of the questions posed by Marta Zgierska in her work “Afterbeauty” The series of photographs depicts various beauty cosmetic masks. Captured in a photographic studio immediately after their use, they get the appearance of abstract sculptures or spatters of paint on canvases, all in delicate and sweet tones of color evoking the decor of a girlie’s room. However, this palette of amicable colors is broken by the disturbing form, triggering associations with some autonomous structure, which has been snatched from the body in sterile (medical) conditions. On the other hand, these disintegrating shapes appear as some vague, separate beings, autonomous organisms.
Today, a facial beauty mask is one of the most popular lifestyle accessory – an indispensable element of a cosmetic bag, commonly used by women who take care of their skin. Furthermore, there is something appealing in it, which makes many young women take selfies while wearing the mask and publish such self-portraits on social media sites, for example in Instagram. The artist herself admits that she usually neglects beauty treatments and on a daily basis has no time for cosmetic rituals or for herself. Therefore, she reaches for facial masks from the position of a researcher rather than a regular user.
Masks used by Marta Zgierska one by one have lost their relaxing and nurturing qualities. Their application has become as unpleasant process – a ritual, which is not only strenuous in its repetitiveness, but also excessive to the extent that the effects the mask is meant to have are more harmful than beneficial to the skin.
The series by Zgierska depicts an unusual, intimate self-portrait. Each sheet features the artist’s face imprinted on it moments earlier. However, traces of her image remain concealed, blurred and obliterated in the photographed forms. The concept of “taking off the mask” is a cultural archetype. This is an important, symbolic, almost performative gesture, which corresponds with exposing oneself, revealing the naked truth about the self. Zgierska however deceives her audience. Here, taking off the mask, in fact, diverts attention away from her. It is the transition from corporeality to immateriality. Hence, one can use the detective skills and investigate the photographs searching for traces of the artist’s skin imprints or remnants of her personality. In this context, the series Afterbeauty may be easily read as the opposition to the culture of omnipresent selfie images; to the modern trend of exploring oneself and creating one’s image on the Internet; to the excessive presence; to the conviction that “if you’re not on social media, you don’ exist”
Additionally, Zgierska’s non-canonical selfportraits enter the realm of abstract art; The effect that she achieves is based on a certain contrast. On one hand, her photographs are pastel and girlie-like, and they refer to everyday experience of a young woman, but on the other hand, they confront the tradition of modernist art. Thus they form a loop, which combines high art with something that evokes associations with banality, infantile, girlishness, in other words – with everything that has been superseded from the modernist art discourse for a very long time. What is also important here is the fact that Zgierska notices the relation between beauty products and skin care, which are connected with making oneself more attractive, and painting. Both are used for creation, for making an impact on the viewers, and often – for seduction.
Here, the beauty of modernism, traditionally associated with “cleansing of art” by removing the excess, also applies to the cleansing of skin. This vocabulary can also be invoked to describe the beauty rituals, cleaning and embellishment of skin.
the importance of the series Afterbeauty lies in the tension between abstraction and representation. It is the relation between photography and painting that plays significant role here. It is the dialog between representing reality, which is done by photography, and creating a painterly representation focused on color. However, this series is also the battle for beauty, which not only has been thoroughly discussed for centuries, but also has been the basic category of aesthetics.
This battle has gone beyond the world of art, and today it is par of reality focused on struggle for the image. The wellness culture is in fact a permanent performance of caring for oneself and presenting its results on social media sites. Modernity revolves around unceasing processes of self-development aimed at becoming the best version of oneself. Stylizing one’s own life, which used to be present mostly in art, has become fundamental part of everyday existence. And that is mainly due to the development of technology and pervasiveness of cameras, smart phones and the Internet. The avant – garde utopia has come true. The movement postulated the need to aestheticize everyday life, and not to create art separately from it. In her work, Zgierska shows us that today it is no longer the utopia, but the dystopia. The artist launches a number of interesting intertextual relations between high art and everyday life, between painting and photography, without clearly defining their affiliations.
Essay published in Polish and English in: Marta Zgierska, Afterbeauty, Monograph, Lublin, Poland, February 2019.
To the images of the fragments of body covered by wax add now real indoor scenes about which we would not know to say if they are glimpses of a boudoir, beauty salons, simple workshop views or what else… It could be about a fiction narrative, some kind of dystopia, or the psychedelic expression of the genre of Twin Peaks. A narrative of that personal story of the cult of the image… With these images, Marta awakes this phrase that Louise Bourgeois (…)
So here we are in the world of trompe l’oeil, of this illusion that aims at the perfect repetition of reality.
This is a genre well identified and codified in the history of art, the meaning of which has evolved over the years: first memic virtuosity, then subtle play with reality.
Essay written on the occasion of the exhibition by Marta Zgierska at Biala Gallery, Lublin (Poland) February 2019. it’s an analysis of the autobiographical approach of the artist.