Thursday, January 30, 2020

digital glam #3 - "smooth and impervious"

Another interesting essay about beauty and the digital at Real Life - this time by Nikki Shaner-Bradford and concerning an aesthetic of smoothness. The essay is titled "Unfleshing" and the subtitle is "the desire to become as smooth and impervious as my phone". It is part of a column series dedicated to identifying "desires, moods, pathologies, and identifications that rarely had names before digital media."

Shaner-Bradford writes of her fantasy to create via skin-care regimens a perfect casing for her face and body: "the texture of silicon, or glass, or freshly poured resin. The kind of material you’re compelled to touch in a museum.... I use a chemical exfoliating product called Biologique Recherche P50 [that] contains phenol, a controversial ingredient that’s also found in paint remover. What I’ve come to understand about P50, through skincare forums that worship the toner as a miracle elixir, is that it’s for people who dream, like me, of exfoliating until they become something better than human..... I spend hours each day on a laptop that seems much smarter and more skilled than I am, and whose body is smoother and more symmetrical than mine..."

The fantasy / fetish is a post-biological beauty that could slip seamlessly into a realm of sleek sensuous-to-the-touch technology and then beyond into the immaterial realm of digitally-enhanced imagery.

"The purpose of such advertising is to show what a body could be if it didn’t have to be a body...."

"The K-beauty trend of “glass skin” rhetorically invokes a standard set by device aesthetics, and blinding highlights offer the illusion of plasticity..."

"I fall in love with the sound of a refreshing feed, admire the clean text of an aggregated news site, make faces into filters until I forget what I look like in the mirror. A popular Instagram filter named Kira-Kira adds glittering sparkles to selfie highlights, filling the timeline with faces that shine like chrome. Another called TURFU comes close to my ex machina aspirations; a grid overlay with a holographic sheen suggests something animatronic, a cyborg. The bounds of beauty no longer limited to genetics or flesh."

These issues and aesthetics are also discussed in this probing and ranging Dissensus thread on Dematerialisation launched by Luke Davis a while back.

Possibly relevant quote from Mark Fisher:

"What we have with digital culture now is a strange hyper-ordinariness. People done up to the nines but it isn't like Bowie where you're playing with abstract aestheticisation. It's a normative model: perfect teeth, skin tone. An utterly conservative artificiality... A normalisation of photoshopping & cosmetic surgery: a wash-back from digital, people's anxiety about their appearance is measured by the standards of a depressing normativity. Neuroses & dissatisfaction are highly productive & useful for capitalism: they can be sold to endlessly"

Possibly relevant gloss on the above from me:

what could be called "subglam" - the pixel-by-pixel polishing of the image in TV postproduction (a/k/a digital intermediate) - smoothing out blemishes and spots, evening out skin-tone, superglossing hair and teeth - that has fed back into everyday life... ordinary people look hyper-groomed.... all those intricate beards.... as if aspiring to digital sharpness and brightness

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