Eva Maria Salvador’s Köpfe (Heads) series begins as sculptures made from beauty products, theatrical props, fancy dress and craft supplies. After composing layers upon layers of bright and girlish goo, Salvador photographs the dissipated creations before transforming her large-scale prints into the foundation for mixed-media paintings. The paintings include bits of the original sculptures. As the works evolve generation by generation, their original materials become part of their DNA. This heritage replicates how girls incorporate aspects of their mothers’ beauty rituals into their own regimes and psychological attitudes towards gender, grooming, sexuality and self-care. Here, the Swiss Berlin-based artist discusses her sculptures and their many incarnations.
AFH: What are the different materials and mediums that you use? And what do attracts you to those materials?
EMS: I use latex, wax, Vaseline, Styrofoam mannequin heads, costume wigs, feathers, jewelry, nail polish, lace and acrylic paint. I choose these materials for their simplicity, accessibility, ordinariness, and sensuality. Often I incorporate items with personal and sentimental value into my sculptures. I am attracted to the tactile qualities of the materials that I use. Malleability is an important aspect but I am also drawn to literal or symbolic connections between my materials and the human body or consumer society.
AFH: What are some of your personal associations with these materials?
EMS: When I was a teenager, I worked at a hairdresser salon. I had to practice techniques on mannequin head. I remember I feeling attracted to the practice heads. I didn’t like the job, so I quit. But working on the mannequins left an impression.
AFH: Starting with the heads, how do your sculptures evolve?
EMS: The life of a sculpture starts in my imagination. I feel an urge to make this vision into an object. I begin by gathering the particular materials that I have in mind with a trip to my favorite theater / decoration supply store. Or, I buy beauty supplies or order liquid latex. The work itself then begins when I start pouring paint, gluing, stapling, and nailing some chosen materials and fragments onto Styrofoam mannequin heads. This part of my process is raw, intuitive, and expressive labor. I remove, rearrange, and paint over pieces until I am satisfied with the form. I usually have a strong feeling when the sculpture is finished, although it is difficult to explain in words what the criteria are for knowing that it’s done– I just know.
AFH: Where do the sculptures go after their portraits are taken?
EMS: After photographing them, I deconstruct the sculptures into fragments. Often I reintegrate pieces of them into new sculptures or transform them into the surfaces of the paintings. I keep some of the sculptures hidden in my studio.
AFH: When you pose your sculptures, what are your considerations? Are you aiming to create a representative or a flattering portrait of them?
EMS: Both. I photograph the finished sculpture in a rather straightforward manner. I use photo techniques from portrait and product photography. The lighting I use is very direct. There is one light source. I prefer the hard sharpness of digital photography. I don’t use a fancy Hasselblad camera and film. I then take a mug shot, first frontal and then sideways. I don’t try to create a moody atmosphere with multiple lights and filters. I simply think about documenting my sculptures. I like the idea of a three-dimensional, personal and expressive art object being documented like a product.
AFH: Although you’re presenting them as products, the mug-shot idea resonates more with me since I keep anthropomorphizing them. I have a hard time not thinking of them as characters. Do you base them on particular women? If so, who are they and how would you describe the personalities expressed by them?
EMS: My work is not based on a specific character. It is a mix between external and internal observations, both personal and universal. I am motivated by psychological struggles. My work explores personal and societal anxieties / desires, existential questions, ethnographical art works, depictions of women in the media and daily life in a consumer society. It’s kind of a blend of all those things.
AFH: How has creating these affected your thoughts about cosmetics, adornment and beauty?
EMS: Since working on this project, I’ve begun to see beauty products as art materials. I use less of them on myself, and more on my sculptures. I believe that cosmetics and jewelry can be seen as props and materials for the public performances of femininity.
AFH: How does the inevitable demise of the sculptures affect your working process and your thoughts about them, as they evolve?
EMS: Their unmonumentality gives me a lot of freedom. Knowing of the inevitable demise of the sculpture, makes me feel more present, open, and connected to the actual moment that I am sculpting. I feel it helps me to take more risks, put more of myself into the sculptures.
AFH: Do the heads sometimes frighten viewers? Have people complained to you about being disturbed by their gooey, organic, slightly pus-y proprieties?
EMS: People have remarked that they find them grotesque and disturbing, but also uncanny and attractive. Nobody has actually complained to me about that.
AFH: For me, your works trigger suppressed childhood memories of mutilating and melting my “Jem and the Holograms” and Barbie dolls.
EMS: I want to keep the interpretation open for the viewer’s associations, and projections. I don’t want to tell anyone how to view my work. That seems pointless and frustrating. My personal motivations, the sources behind my artwork are not especially relevant for the viewer to know about. I like to poke, trigger, and stimulate the viewers. I would like my work to function as a sort of Rorschach test.