Made Up is an exhibition of 8 photographs installed in the women’s bathroom in Brown University’s Faunce campus center, which invites the women’s bathroom user to consider representations of femininity and how we define this idea in our society, and at the same time to reexamine our accepted notions of exhibition spaces. Photographer Jenna Marsh uses a macro lens to explore her own body, particularly as it looks when covered with makeup. Marsh makes art about the art of applying and wearing makeup and the materiality of makeup itself. As a result, she examines on a micro level the effect and appearance of the substances that many women put on their bodies, revealing detail and texture in the photographs imperceptible to the human eye. By using a macro lens, Marsh de-contextualizes the elements by which we tend to identify femininity in our society, and we therefore look at these substances in a new, almost grotesque way. Made Up thus invites viewers to reconsider these substances by which we often define femininity and to investigate and reimagine them for themselves.
Made Up uses art as a sort of intervention in the seemingly private, yet public space of the communal bathroom. A bathroom is a place where people often apply makeup and look at and examine their own bodies---it is a place where we engage in these culturally typical feminine rituals. In this way, Made Up seeks to invite viewers to understand Marsh’s photographs in this context and, in turn, to be conscious of the rituals they themselves engage in while in this environment. Moreover, Made Up challenges our conceptions of accepted exhibition space, as it presents art objects in a conventional gallery style, but installed in an environment not generally recognized for showcasing works of art. Thus, the exhibition begs its viewers to reevaluate ideas about exhibition spaces and to consider how the bathroom environment places the photographs in a context that provokes a new understanding of them individually and thematically as a whole.
The opening photograph, Untitled #1, is a close-up side view of an open eye saturated with a mix of black eye makeup and water droplets. The vantage point of the photograph reveals skin surrounding the eye in soft focus, with the side view of an open eye, whose curvature is cut off by the frame, creating an open triangular shape with the edge of the frame. The focus of the lens powerfully captures in great detail the black saturated pores of skin and the strands of eyelashes clumped together with mascara, which look like wet, black, tangled wires. The unlikely vantage point of the image coupled with the dense magnified layers of makeup and water droplets evokes a grotesqueness that obscures the subject matter itself, transforming it into unrecognizable material, almost insect-like.
The second photograph, Untitled #2, presents a downward perspective of an eyelid fully masked with brick red sparkle eye shadow and the protruding eyelashes fanned out below. The focus of the macro lens allows the viewer to see the accumulation of these cosmetic substances on a level where they are no longer recognizable as the substances that we are accustomed to encounter on the eye. The eyelid, with makeup thoroughly caked on, takes on an unnatural quality and texture. Moreover, the wire-like eyelashes glisten, drenched with an abundance of shimmery and textural cosmetic material. Thus, in these first two photographs the body parts are perverted and revealed in an almost surrealist light.
Likewise, Untitled #3 is a close-up depiction of a made-up eye. However, in this photograph, the eye is not as much made strange---although the image is of macro scale, the elements of the eye are not decontextualized and made ambiguous. Nevertheless, the image is a visually compelling exploration of the materiality of makeup and the effect it has on the eye.
Untitled #4 includes a larger scope in the frame, examining how the eye looks when makeup mixes with water as well as the effect of water on skin and hair. The watery black substances on the eye seep into the pores, revealing a crosshatched effect on the wet skin covered with water droplets.
The next two photographs, Untitled #5 and Untitled #6, both explore the act of applying makeup to the skin. In the first, Marsh captures the process of applying eyeliner to the eye, but by providing shallow depth of field, she makes blurry this process, only revealing in focus a tiny area of the eyelid and eyelashes. Furthermore, the use of blur causes the skin and makeup to blend, visually melding the natural and the artificial. The second photograph depicts the process of applying lipstick to the lips of an open mouth. Here, Marsh reveals this typically feminine act and the familiar accompanying pose of the open mouth, showcasing it by carefully placing the lips in focus and the rest of the face in blur.
Untitled #7 is a detail of red-painted lips with hanging water droplets, and displays a more sensual, soft depiction of lips, as the lipstick color and water droplets move from being isolated in focus to a blended blur across the frame.
The final image of the exhibition, Untitled #8, features a close-up of teeth and a bottom lip smeared with red lipstick, with black strands of hair pulled taut across the mouth. While red lips are generally considered feminine and sexy, by using the macro lens, Marsh depicts her lips in a way that shows all the details in the skin and hair that our eyes fail to see and that we generally do not find beautiful. In this image, we see all the lines in the lips, the texture of lipstick, and the way in which it is absorbed on the body.