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The Mathematics of Makeup?

The art installation that talks nerdy.

Janet Zweig’s latest piece “Lipstick Enigma” kisses while it tells, as it’s constructed from 1200 resin lipsticks that adjust to spell out different phrases. From far away, the piece might resemble the kind of LED advertisement you might typically see on the subway, but in this case, each pixel is constructed out of a Barbie pink tube of lipstick. The tubes are moved up and down with the help of step motors controlled by 60 circuit boards, with software developed by Jon Meyer.


The interactive sculpture is triggered by a motion sensor, causing a new phrase to pop up on the display. The text is derived from a computer-driven sentence-generator using rules and lexicon written by the artist. With each new body that passes before it, the sculpture spews forth different mechanical-sounding twists on what might be blurbs taken from the covers of beauty magazines: “truisms” that remind us much of Jenny Holzer’s work. Remarks like “New sprocket, new you,” “Torque his virtue,” and “Pair circuitry with taste” give robotic overtones to the whole beautification process, obviously raising feminist themes by presenting femininity and attraction as a mechanical process. Something that is automatically attained when a+b are put together, equating a better, brighter—if more Stepford Wife-ish—version of a woman.

Even in these post-feminist times, with the popularity of television shows like Mad Men and Boardwalk Empire the upkeep of one’s self, especially for women, will always be a hot topic. Take for instance the latest cover of W Magazine, which features the artwork of Barbara Kruger, a feminist collage artist, and possibly another one of Zweig’s influences.

Giving a sexless computer the ability to interpret these age-old questions and topics reinvents the subject matter all over again, presenting brand new perspectives that we’ll be looking out for and continuing to see in the future.