"It might resemble war paint. Or football players' under-eye stripes. Or sometimes you'll get more of a postapocalyptic Blade Runner look," says local performance artist and burlesque dancer Bronwyn Lewis, describing her upcoming workshop, Facial Recognition Defense, a Makeup Tutorial, this Thursday, April 11, at Henry Art Gallery. The blocky shapes, with their warping, cubic patterns and gemstone angles, spring directly from New York artist Adam Harvey's CV Dazzle project, short for Computer Vision Dazzle.
The name alludes to dazzle camouflage, a WWI-era ship-painting technique that used oblique grids to form illusions, distorting familiar shapes. Similarly, Harvey designed a camouflage to rupture certain patterns that algorithmic software programs like Google and Facebook use to identify images of human faces. Once these ideas got into Bronwyn's head, they would not leave her imagination alone.
"A diagonal line works really well. Anything that'll break up the symmetry," Bronwyn says. She experiments by drawing strange patterns on her skin, using sponsor Atomic Cosmetics' cream foundations, in colors ranging from "clown white to ink black to really fair to super pale to pretty dark." She tests each look by running her digital portrait through a customized program. When it registers Bronwyn's face, it frames the area with a red box, but if her makeup is right, Bronwyn will slip past without detection.
Strategic triangles or checkerboard patterns are usually effective. So are curving eyebrow forms, stacked along her forehead. She also drapes herself with clip-in hair extensions from Western Beauty Supply (fashion notable Jackie Hell shops here too). A complicated emo 'do with falling-down chunks sufficiently jumbles Bronwyn's features, and there's another style "that wraps under the nose, but it's a little more conspicuous."
Bronwyn's other cosmetic-camouflage experiments include re-creations of the astral thunderbolt worn by the ambisexual redhead and oozer of glamour David Bowie at the peak of his dementedness, as character Aladdin Sane. "I just love him," she says—and his giant zigzag eludes Bronwyn's face-detection software, it turns out. Like Bronwyn, Bowie's beauty-ritual experiments have been elaborate and wildly demanding. A 1973 Music Scene article listed his drugstore favorites: white rice powder from Tokyo, "tiny gold rhinestones," and old-fashioned mascara, "the kind that you spit on the little brush" to apply. And according to Christopher Sandford's biography, Bowie famously passed out while performing the dramatic finale to Rock 'n' Roll Suicide: "Blocked pores, due to Bowie's heavy makeup, were blamed."