Universal Skin Salvation
An installation by Tiffany Jaeyeon Shin.
What does the beauty, sensorial delight, and multi-million dollar industry of American cosmetics have to do with the science of medicine and the business of war — in particular, U.S. war in Asia?
Few standing in the clean bright spaces of American cosmetic counters today know that the miracle of Retinol-A comes from the devastations of Agent Orange, or that the precious lactic acid used to rejuvenate skin today, found in so many upscale beauty/health products, is organically kin to the racialized “funk” of kimchi, or that the double-lid surgery so often thought to be a symptom of Asian self-hatred has its origins in U.S. military medical advancement.
Tiffany Jaeyeon Shin’s solo exhibition, titled “Universal Skin Salvation,” explores the porousness of bodily boundaries and the ceaseless movement of living processes, such as fermentation, that echoes the history of U.S. colonialism and connects the billion dollar pharma-cosmetic industry to a history of war and scientific experiments. This installation focuses on the production and commercial uses of lactic acid — a compound found in our muscles but also extracted from animals, food, and synthetic processes and then repackaged and racialized through the burgeoning ideal and industry of so-called K-beauty today — in order to explore entanglements between beauty, colonialism, medicine, food, and racial otherness.