Taus Makhacheva’s Signature Sculptural Facial, Blackburne House, £25 (Fridays & Saturdays only, pre-booking required)This was an experience I’d been really keen to try. I knew the basics of what the Sculptural Signature Facial was from interviewing Taus Makhacheva for the July issue of Bido Lito. She was a fascinating artist to meet, and our discussion covered a lot of different themes which she was bringing into the work. Sensory knowledge, dignity, artistic practices: I had to go and experience this for myself.
A literal description would be: you go for a facial. The products are real, but formulated from the ‘ingredients of art’ e.g. clay and cotton. The treatment is given by a beautician/actress who is also telling you a scripted story throughout. Beyond these details, I feel that this post can only possibly be an account of my personal reflections on the experience. This is an artwork about making connections of many kinds. And I know that some of the thoughts and feelings that I had were because of where I am in my head right now, I couldn’t say that you’ll feel the same way about things.
When I say connections, the obvious one would be between you and the beautician – a literal, physical connection inherent in the process. But there was also something else: I’ve had facials before, but I’ve never felt so aware of exactly what was happening at almost every moment. But I really did here, which I’m sure stemmed from the use of ASMR techniques. Don’t worry – I’d never heard of ASMR before I was preparing to interview Makhacheva either, but a browse through YouTube familiarised me with the basics. It’s a genre that focus on stimuli; mostly aural, such as whispers and taps. They are embedded in this treatment, from the way the words are spoken around your face to the sounds which provide specific accompaniment. I can’t say they gave me the tingling sensation that some devotees report, but I definitely stayed strongly connected to the moment. If you’ve ever done meditation or mindfulness, you’ll know that the focus is about staying aware of the present. This facial was one of the strongest experiences of being able to do this that I’ve ever had. It was a very welcome sensation because (this is where it gets personal) I’ve been realising lately how short my attention span is getting, how many times a day exactly I find myself absently checking my phone. Having been trying to detox from absent-mindedness anyway, this was a relieving experience.
Although on the few occasions my mind did wander, it was because I was found myself more weirded-out than I’d expected about becoming part of the artwork. That is, after all, what you become when visitors can watch through the windows or even in the room at any time. I did relax eventually, but thoughts about who might be watching and what they were thinking did come back occasionally. It was a new experience for me to be so aware of being a passive object of speculation.
The story told over the course of the treatment is about the human search for empathy, and the need to destroy the old to make something new. It’s well-scripted and actually feels pretty natural, with regular returns to the expected realm of explaining the products. It’s where the “art” of this process really shines through – there’s a deep interweaving of thoughts and themes that leaves you thinking. Or left me thinking, at least – but again, these are thoughts that connected with where my mind’s been lately. Do I feel like I left something of myself behind in there? The faces are being kept for a future project: the story is not over. I’ll be fascinated to see where it ends up.
Are you curious yet? Do go, I’d like to be able to discuss it and compare experiences with more people. If £25 sounds like a lot – well I suppose it is, but it’s not much more than any other 30-minute facial. Whether beauty treatments are your usual thing or not, there’s certainly something very unique about this one.