SyFy’s Face Off is the second reality TV competition I’ve ever exhibited real interest in (the first being a bewigged, tucked, six-inch-heel race to a rhinestone tiara), and thanks to my mom’s testimonial, my boyfriend and I started watching it in October and finished all five seasons in the time it takes Halloween candy to be forgotten in an over-abundant closet.
Akin to my confessions in several previous blog entries, there’s always been something incredibly alluring about the ability to transform oneself into another entity: to step inside both the psychology and physicality of someone else. And without the funds for those elusively reputable plastic surgeons or the gall to allow a Romani medium and her phantasmic constituents to possess you for the price of a green Ulysses S. Grant etching, makeup is the perfect vehicle for accomplishing said feat. With malleable facial features ripe for the morphing, makeup fanaticism came to me with the same gusto that impelled Claude Cahun to don a guise of androgyny, Martha Wilson to emulate the squinty, grey visage of Bill Clinton, and Leigh Bowery to manifest nightmarish acid trips in human form. Despite my odd childhood disinterest in the adult makeup my four-year-old sister idolized, once puberty hit my cocooned metamorphosis produced not a fully actualized butterfly but a chameleonic canvas upon which I would spend eleven years imagining an array of guises, utilizing this pliant mug of mine to artistic advantage.
Without any formal cosmetic training or a kit that exceeded thirty dollars, pounds of acrylic paint, wood shavings, and chip brush bristles were expended before I discovered nirvana in the form of a class description my freshman year of college. The heaven-sent Introduction to Makeup Design was a course harbored away in the production design department whose only prerequisite was the monk-like patience necessary to nab a spot on its coveted roster. Finally, after three years of waiting, becoming hopelessly smitten with RuPaul’s Drag Race one fateful all-nighter with my life-altering friend Erica, and discovering relentless idolatry in the form of Sharon Needles, I was admitted into Makeup Design my last quarter senior year. As if that turn of events wasn’t enough to make me click my heels in euphoria, happenstance scheduling conflicts enabled my Bajan bestie Logan to join the vanity mirrored mix, resulting in a more idyllic class configuration than I could have imagined. With this fortuitous development, I was ready to end my college education with a resounding, greasepainted bang.
But that was before I discovered that the usual Makeup Design professor had stepped down that quarter, and his replacement was an improv actor whose only experience courting the fair maquillage was in applying rudimentary black eyes for theater audiences whose vision was marred by distance and bright stage lights. As photo majors bent on creating conceptual, camera-ready designs that elicited either realism or hyper-fantasticality, Logan and I were less than enthused. Especially when the professor revealed the book he expected the class to teach themselves from.
If your eyes perceive four makeup designs befitting a festive elementary school parade and an overwhelmingly blue cast that is no fault of any scanner, then thank your lucky carrots: your eyes are very astute. I won’t bash the publishers for comprising this collection of what someone must have deemed a valuable tool for beginning cosmetology, but based on the fact that the lesson plans contained within this book’s pages only deteriorate in technical skill from the cover on, this is no educator for a class full of college students.
Fortunately, our professor, new to his academic profession and still unscathed by the autocracy that develops after too many impositions on the school board’s behalf, was incredibly lax about our approach to the curriculum. Fully aware that he’d relinquished his teaching duties to an outdated book, Professor Improv allowed us to do whatever we pleased as long as it involved our faces and Bill Nye’s cosmetologist cousin Ben.
Thus, the creating began. While the majority of the class dutifully practiced red pandas, burn scars, and oversized foreheads, my four-person offshoot of the room fathomed into existence living tree bark, geometric cubism, Cirque du Soleil reveries, reptilian scales, and, my personal favorite, the glue-sticked eyebrows and over exaggerated cheekbones of drag. Amidst this fascinating inventiveness, the boundless ideation of my peers encouraged me to bring in a new amalgam of inspiration on a daily basis, combining the evil queen of The Magic Flute with the traditional makeup of Kabuki theater, weaving together Native American symbolism and Maori tattoo patterns, experimenting with Nordic and African horn designs, and even going all-out scary she-male by emulating my screenwriter boyfriend’s incarcerated tough-gal character Sheila.
While the education I received certainly wasn’t worth the weight of my hefty tuition (a slight on the school’s behalf that could fill an entire blog entry of its own), the chance to utilize unfamiliar tools in an encouraging environment of like-minded creativity definitely had its merits. And with the numerous portfolios and theses I’ve crafted on the art of disguise and its psychological forbearance, the comparisons to Cindy Sherman my middle school oeuvre received before I even knew who she was, and the duped professors who’ve asked of my self-portraits, “Who’s the model, a friend?”, perhaps the experimental ambling of Intro to Makeup Design will get me one step closer to achieving Skin-Walker status… sans the murderous aura Native American legend associates with it. For the face and its many facets is a powerful tool, and as any prosthetic artist, title-hungry drag queen, or student rising in the ranks of production design could tell you, they don’t call that baby your money-maker for nothing!
While watching the Savannah College of Art & Design’s reputed fashion show last Spring–and wishing they’d attribute the work to the artists so that I could compare the outcomes to the conceptual catalysts of samurai armor, muscle tissue fibers, monsters found in children’s imaginations, Inuit culture, and DaVinci’s anatomical drawings (none of which was identifiable)–something happened that would unbolt a whole new entryway into my persona. With each wardrobe change, the DJ would seamlessly meld a new track into the electronic du jour, and midway through the production, the tempo slowed, the treble chimed in, and a virilized Destiny’s Child classic contributed to the androgynous dubiety of digital music.
That’s how I discovered Cyril Hahn, a Vancouver-based, Swiss producer with a knack for slowing down pop and hip-hop hits and turning them into something light, ethereal and far from the banality entrenched in the originals’ lyrics. Not gonna lie, Hahn’s tendency to turn vocalists like Mariah Carey, Solange, and the aforementioned Destiny trio into contralto men was a large temptation on my behalf (a fact that might stem from my long-standing membership to the RuPaul’s Drag Race fanclub), but for anyone seeking meditative music that blends the soft din of a sea breeze with recurrent percussions and vocals that could double as the bass, Cyril Hahn is worth a listen… And in honor of LeVar Burton stint on Reading Rainbow, you don’t have to take my word for it:
Before discovering this hermaphroditic opus, I was bred into an eclecticism so quintessentially meta that I’ve never once been able to answer the survey question, “What’s your favorite music genre?” Therefore, Hahn’s induction into Emily Moon’s idées fixes means his oeuvre is now conglomerated into a categorial soup so diverse it gives the melting pot of Los Angeles a run for its money. While I have the ability to fixate on one artist at a time, repeating their canon with the same broken record finesse my dad used to drive us insane with, my ears refuse to hunker down with one genre for more than a day, and thus, I always choose to answer that dreaded question with an explanatory list.
Since childhood, I’ve been raised on an assortment of music ranging from the Irish wail of U2 and the soul of Buena Vista Social Club, to the anarchic shrieking of Bow Wow Wow and the utter nonsense of The B-52’s. My pops had a collection of CDs he recycled through with regularity and when I wasn’t manning the sound system with Aqua’s “Barbie Girl” and Now That’s What I Call Music, Vol. God Only Knows, my dad was instilling in me a nostalgic fondness for Peter Gabriel, Fleetwood Mac, P.M. Dawn, The Police, Seal, and Simon & Garfunkel. Meanwhile, my mom introduced me to classical singers-turned-alternative like Paula Cole and Sinéad O’Connor, Californian favorites from her youth like The Beach Boys and Dick Dale & The Del-Tones, and never-stale oldies like Smokey Robinson & The Miracles and Marvin Gaye.
Along the way I picked up quite a few of my own arbitrary additions to the eclectic mash-up pre-programmed in my brain. Included in this assortment was my middle school fixation on Damon Albarn’s brainchild the Gorillaz (and all things Jamie Hewlett); a sixteen-year-old infatuation with industrial German band Rammstein, which occurred in tandem to my classical singing education and resulted in some atypical harmonizations during my drives to class; my teenage liaisons with Björk’s melodramatic gobbledegook, Kanye West’s catchy complaining, and Joshua Bell’s violinistic prowess; “scooping up coconuts” to my favorite dubstep hailstorms in college; and finally my recent surrender to the oxymoronic mainstream-hipster tunes I refused to listen to while dating an indie ex. But I cite these artists and genres as mere highlights in a longstanding courtship with music: a simple answer to an unintentionally difficult question. For while I inadvertently learned temperamental German listening to Till Lindemann roar his lyrics and “danced this mess around” at Kate Pierson’s behest, I never stopped listening to absolutely everything else. Patsy Cline, Enya, The Coasters, Rodrigo y Gabriela, Elvis Presley, Hawaiian slack key guitar, Ella Fitzgerald, Flight of the Conchords, and all the classic Disney soundtracks–you name a genre, and I’ve probably listened to it twice in the past week.
So welcome, Mr. Hahn, to the euphonic jambalaya that makes succinct answers to that age-old question near-impossible.