The surreal beauty tutorial from visual artist Adham Faramawy interrogates how commercial content in the digital age influences our perception of the body and identity
Spanning across mediums from sculpture to computer programs, perfumes to performances, artist Adham Faramawy’s work draws on the visual and aural language of advertising to explore how media consumption in the digital age influences identity construction and perceptions of the body.
A recurring theme in Adham’s work sees people, sometimes himself, inhabiting commercial scenarios which then take a surreal turn. Performance piece “Total Flex,” for example, is a take-off on instructional work out videos in which footage of a naked man exercising is layered onto psychedelic visual effects. Meanwhile, “Make Up Tutorial,” released earlier this year, takes the form of the YouTube beauty tutorial as it’s starting point before beginning to unravel into nonsense dialogue as slime and foam devour both man and screen.
We talked to the artist about the inspiration behind “Make Up Tutorial” and why he is drawn to exploring the medium of technology through his art.
What inspired your video “Make Up Tutorial”? Why did you want to use the format of a beauty tutorial as a starting point?
Adham Faramawy: My sister’s a beauty editor in Dubai and Abu Dhabi and she got me into watching these make-up tutorials on YouTube and Instagram. Some of them are pretty funny, pretty extreme and honestly I love that! I also noticed how much more varied the people making this kind of material are than I might have seen on TV. So much of my work thinks about how advertising positions and utilises certain identity types and constitutes how we think about our bodies that it was difficult not to take apart this kind of often branded content.
Can you tell us about how you made the video - is it a process you’ve used before? How does this film fit in with your other work in that regard?
Adham Faramawy: I make artwork in a lot of media from sculpture to computer programs, to perfume, to print, mostly revolving around performance for camera videos. I’m in the work sometimes but usually I work with performers. Almost always the footage is post-produced and animated over. I’ve made a fair bit of work that considers the proximity of art images to commercial images, that replicates and toys with commercial strategies. In that sense, this video is an evolution of that process that kind of hybridises or synthesizes the approach of some quite varied artists and groups like Art Club 2000, Alex Bag, Yayoi Kusama or Lynda Benglis.
The video pairs surreal visuals with dialogue that is often nonsense. Why? Was there any method behind this madness?
Adham Faramawy: I find advertising images so seductive. I’m a total mark for perfume ads and sometimes I find how naive I am about the ways I see and understand images kind of disturbing. I wanted to find a way to think through that. Sometimes the way I might do that is to copy the way an image is made and intensify certain parts of it, using science fiction as a way to push the image until it unravels.
”However fun a lot of these videos are, I kind of feel trapped by them and I wanted to try to make an escape valve.“
What do you think the extreme popularity of make-up tutorials and beauty bloggers says about our time and society?
Adham Faramawy: Coming from a family of journalists, I suppose what I’ve been interested in is the way that a shift in networked technology has enabled and encouraged a wide variety of people to make images and that for some reason this has become brand sponsored and quite quickly this content seems to have become the dominant form of advertising, forcing old media to play catch up.
I wondered, as a diversity activist who has been shouting for more diverse representation, if the commercial form this representation is taking might not actually be counterproductive and if this new sales mechanism might not just be compounding certain problems. However fun a lot of these videos are, I kind of feel trapped by them and I wanted to try to make an escape valve.
Your work often engages with technology, and recently you’ve been working with VR. What is it about the mediums that you’re drawn to exploring?
Adham Faramawy: The body is the central concern of my work and I started getting really excited about what sculptural and immersive viewing might mean in terms of how we see images, so VR caught my attention in that VR is a moving image that appears to surround you.
I got my first chance to work with VR a few years ago when the Royal Academy in London commissioned me to make a new work with the HTC Vive headset, that hadn’t been released yet. I worked using a sculpting app called Kodon and with the coder there to make a new paint tool that let viewers spray paint the sculptures.
What is the creative process like when working with VR?
Adham Faramawy: I guess that depends. If you’re making an environment, game or new tool, the process of animating on Unity or working with coders can be pretty dry! But if you’re using one of the new drawing or sculpting apps, I guess it can be pretty silly, performative and fun. I’ve found the apps I’ve used quite prescriptive though.
What are you working on next?
Adham Faramawy: At the moment I’m working on a couple of 360 dance videos, which I’m prepping to shoot right now! I haven’t worked with 360 cameras before or with traditional choreography so I’m really excited about this. Watch this space.