Images above: ©Laurie Simmons, How We See. (left) Tatiana, 2015; (right) Ajak, 2015. Courtesy of the artist and Salon 94.
We live in an age in which we have the power to edit virtually every facet of our lives. With countless social media platforms and an arsenal of editing tools, we are the prudent producers of our identities and personas; we skillfully and deliberately crop, filter, retouch and enhance, constructing a favored facade of our lived realities. We smile alongside frienemies, photograph our untouched, over-priced lunches, and meticulously apply make-up for our latest Instagram selfie: our presented self on the Internet is very much a tactful performance.
Laurie Simmons' latest exhibition How We See delves into these themes of identity, perception and performance, contributing to the ongoing dialogue within the art world on the true power Internet culture wields in modern society. Not simply a voyeuristic expose of spectacle, Simmons' work is a thoughtful mediation on self presentation and self delusion as enabled by social media. Inspired by the "Doll Girls" community Simmons found while researching Japanese cosplay for Kigurumi (2014,) Simmons spent hours immersed in YouTube beauty tutorials and blog sites devoted to the venerated "real-life Barbies" of the Internet. With their doe-eyes and near porcelain features, "Doll Girls" further perpetuate unrealistic standards of beauty and often times, go to extreme lengths, such as cosmetic surgery, to attain this otherwise unattainable ideal.
©Laurie Simmons, How We See. (left) Lindsay, 2015; (right) Edie, 2015. Courtesy of the artist and Salon 94.
How We See is a series of six large-scale images, a collaborative effort by Simmons with make-up artists Landy Dean and James Kaliardos, fashion designer Rachel Antonoff, and several fashion models, including two famous transgender models, Peche Di and Edie North. Drawing upon formal conventions of portraiture, Simmons' subjects are photographed in front of a curtain and cropped from the shoulders down, reminiscent of the traditional High School yearbook photo. However, vibrant colors, heavy saturation and chromatic lighting render an illusory, kaleidoscopic effect that deviate from the archetypal layout. Artifice and superficiality manifests in the eerie, esoteric emulation of open eyes, which is really adhesive lashes and make-up painted on the models' closed eyelids, as well as their otherworldly gaze. How We See is an insightful commentary on the ever-blurred distinction between reality and illusion in our increasingly digitized world. However, it also brings into question how much our own identity and self-worth is unknowingly informed not only by these notions of beauty, but also by our number of likes, followers, and retweets.
Installation view of Laurie Simmons: How We See. ©The Jewish Museum, NY. Photo by David Heald. Art ©Laurie Simmons. Courtesy of the artist and Salon 94.
How We See is Simmons' first work in which she uses people as her subjects. However, a common theme in Simmons' work is self-perception and imaginary worlds, as seen in her previous exhibitions Early Color Interiors (1978) and Clothes Make the Man (1990.) How We See, curated by Kelly Taxer, is on view at the Jewish Museum beginning March 13 through August 9.
By Jacqueline Flynn.