Hyaluron, performance for the camera, 2022

Meeting the ever-changing face of youth, Hyaluron accompanies the artist on the operating table to attain bigger lips. In this performance for the camera, inspired by the reincarnations of the French artist Orlan, Karlo Štefanek self-objectifies and complies with the pain to depict the change as accessible as ever. The focus bounces back from the doctor to the patient, blurring who the main subject of the photograph is supposed to be. The doctor’s proximity to the lens gives her power over the person being succumbed to the pressures of it all. With the beauty light hovering over Štefanek’s head, the irony that even reality can look staged becomes apparent. As the three-dimensional photo breaks the fourth wall, part of the problem is also placed on the viewer, warning that we should all feel responsible for how these standards are curated.

Hyaluron also carries a documentarian approach, exposing the consumerist society in which the newer generations in the Balkans are growing up.

Capitalism and Western beauty standards are finally catching up to Eastern European cities and have the strongest chokehold over the most impressionable ones. I didn’t have to look very far but to my high school friends, who all have or plan to alter their Slavic features. When you are from the Balkans, there is also a certain role you have to fulfill. The easiest way to do so is by being normal and being normal means being beautiful. Beautiful people sell products, they host TV programs, find spouses, and have babies. and all of it is still the lifestyle that brings one respect. So parents oftentimes force their kids, young women, to get things done to marry. If you take the other approach and choose to do nothing, you leave the peninsula to realise your big Slav nose makes you not fit in anywhere. One of the driving forces behind the trend are the mega-popular folk singers and reality TV stars. The media hails them as the ideal beauty type. No matter what you decide on in the end, there is no escaping it.

Photography by Maria Berg

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