Featured in this piece are screenshots of Kylie Jenner’s photoshoot with Steven Klein for Interview Magazine. The full interview with Kylie Jenner, conducted by Interview Magazine‘s Senior Editor, Chris Wallace, is available here.
Allen Jones, 79, is a British sculptor and artist. Jenner’s latest photoshoot with Steven Klein, is based on Jones’s 1969 sculptured piece titled, Chair.
According to Jones, “because these 3 sculptures of women are recognizably representational it is less obvious that the sculpture is not about being naturalistic. They are not so much about representing woman but the experience of woman, not an illusion.”
The experience of a woman as displayed by Jones in “Chair” is one of an enacted performance. The angles the doll-like women are placed in are in alliance with that of the male gaze. A controlling male gaze at that as the expression of these women lack pleasure or agency. The women are unnatural, they are dolls, aligned with the societal expectations of the world they inhabit. This presentation by Jones resonates with the life of Kylie Jenner. Jenner, a model and lip kit business owner, inhabits a world where she is made to be unnatural. She is held up for display in a doll-like fashion, similar to the sentiments made by Jones in “Chair.” Yet, within her supposed struggle for agency, Jenner strips the agency of those below her in Klein’s adaptation of “Chair.” Jenner aims to be personified in the struggle of being displaced as a celebrity through this photoshoot and interview but rather shelters her displacement in the ridicule of everyday life.
As explained by Jenner herself in the interview with Interview Magazine;
WALLACE: Well, here we are talking about how you’re experimenting to try to find yourself—and I don’t mean just you, I think we all are—and then here is this thing where you can’t really color too far outside of the lines, right? It’s like steering a really, really big ship. You can’t just make quick turns; there’s a whole process to what you’re posting. Do you feel limited by that, or is the platform itself totally worth it?
JENNER: I feel limited in some ways because I have such young fans. But I’m okay with that; I do everything I want to do.
Celebrities are consistently under the microscope – having every element of their lives up for judgement. We see this recreation done through such acts as meme-ing and parodies. In the case of celebrities who grow up in the life of the flashing lights, this experience becomes more damning than endearing.
Jenner’s experience of growth under the microscope is no different from that of other child stars – having being born into the life of a constant watchful eye, the Kardashians are a family who make choices. The Kardashians choose to have a television show that places them on the map 24/7. The Kardashians choose to have media attention (often calling on the paparazzi themselves). Finally, the Kardashians choose to act in such rebellious ways, placing them on headlines [like this, this, and this]. For Jenner and Klein to compare her choice to remain under the watchful eye, making headlines for being cultural insensitive along the way, to that of an everyday situation that was not a choice, becomes the issue and limitation in this piece.
Back in 2011, the WHO reported “More than a billion people are estimated to live with some form of disability.” A disability, never as glamourized as we see by Klein/Jenner, and a disability, certainly, not comparable to the feeling of ‘limitation’ due to being a public figure. As Jenner is easily able to sit in that wheelchair, an act being done for profit and exposure, and then easily get up and walk around, retreating to her ‘normal’ life, the other billion demographic of the world, are unable to do so. This enactment of an appropriation of pain to express the pseudo sentiments of the bourgeois is one that Jenner, and many like her, continuously project.
49-year-old Bjarne Melgaard, is a Norwegian artist known, mostly, for his rendition of Jones’ Chair. The images were originally posted on Buro 24/7, and since then have made its rounds across social media, receiving backlash along the way. Things got especially heated when Russian editor of Garage magazine, Dasha Zhukova, posted an image of herself sitting on top of one of the works (seen above). The racial implications of Zhukova’s actions sparked immense backlash leading the Russian editor to issue a statement.
Zhukova explained, “This photograph, which has been published completely out of context, is of an art work intended specifically as a commentary on gender and racial politics…I utterly abhor racism, and would like to apologise to anyone who has been offended by this image.” The original interview that featured the image can be seen here [with the sculpture cut out]. After translating the page to English, it was clear to see that there was no mention in regards to the image, and no mention of race, racism, and its ties with gender. Particularly, within the context of it being published on MLK Day, the image was seen rather as furthering stepping – well sitting – on the backs of minorities. The double edged sword that is intersectionality that would prohibit a white woman from sitting on the disheveled body of a black woman, while that woman lacks the agency of the original women of the piece. Alike to Jenner, Zhukova failed to bring to light these issues. Much can be said about white women who position themselves as an integral part of surrounding issues that do not necessarily place them in the center. When confronted, Zhukova turns to tell viewers that the image was taken outside of its context, as though the backlash was ungrounded. The turning to point blame at consumers is a sentiment followed equally by Jenner.
THE BLAMING OF CONSUMERS FOR THE PAIN(S) OF THE UPPER CLASS
WALLACE: I’m sort of fascinated by the way your business works, because every part of your life seems to be fodder for the app or the social networks. Is there ever a time where the cameras aren’t rolling? Do you ever have private time, a private place for yourself that’s beyond the reach of work and Snapchat?
JENNER: Probably just my off days. I think it’s fine and I make it work. I like spending time with my friends. It really brings me back to the real world. I’ll be working a lot and traveling and come back and just, like, hang out with my friends. I feel like if I didn’t have these friends that I pretty much grew up with and have known from before I was as big as I am, I wouldn’t be as grounded and as normal. They hold on to a piece of me, and if I lost them, I feel like I’d lose a little bit of myself.
WALLACE: Do you have a secret interior world? Is there a whole side of you that we don’t know about?
JENNER: [laughs] There is absolutely a side of me that people don’t know. I’m not myself on Snapchat or Instagram. That’s totally not me. I’m way flashier on Instagram and Snapchat, because I feel like that’s what people want to see and that’s what I’ve always done, so I’m not going to stop. People want to see my cars and my purses. People love fashion. But that’s so not me.
WALLACE: And who is the real you? If you didn’t have to feed those timelines, what would you rather be doing?
JENNER: I would probably just never dress up. I would never wear makeup, because I honestly hate wearing makeup. Lately, I’ve just been so over it. I feel like I’m way too young to wear such heavy makeup all the time. It’s just bad for your skin, but I’m always doing photo shoots or red carpets and events, so I just obviously want to look good. And I don’t know, I like hiking. I used to do a lot of hiking when I wasn’t as busy. I had a lot of anxiety when I was younger, so I would just run to this hill path in the back of my mom’s house and listen to Jack Johnson. I would listen to Jack Johnson and stare at the sky until my anxiety went away. When I was 16, I was always outside. We always watched the sunset, the group that I was friends with.
Jenner talks of this connection to the word ‘real’ and ‘normal’ that she might not be able to fully resonate with. Throughout the interview Jenner spoke of her love for experimenting with her looks. Jenner’s experience with experimentation is vastly different from a normal individual’s idea of experimentation due to her socioeconomic position and social standing. Her continuous stride in experimentation extended to the wheelchair, a ‘normal’ and ‘real’ connection she, with Klein, attempted to make. In the world of the rich and famous, in losing this connecting Jenner partly blames her consumers. A blame that is partially steeped in truth.
Jenner continues to blame her consumers and fans for this disconnection she feels. Jenner seems to blame those who consume her lifestyle, herself, her image, and her products, for her need to retreat back to a normal life. She states her distaste for wearing makeup but wants to look ‘good.’ She describes this pressure to be the absolute icon for materialism blaming the consumers for keeping her in focus. A blame that is partially true. The consumers are at fault so much as telling celebrities what they want through what they consume. When celebrities fail to meet standards, they are often neglected. Yet, these standards are subconsciously placed by the media and advertisements to maintain the status quo of us and them in capitalism. If it were a board game, Jenner would be the pawn, capitalism would be the narrator, and consumers would be the board.
As she lives in Calabasas – a gated neighbourhood in California – surrounded predominantly by other high/upper class individuals, having grown up in the world of flashing lights, the definition of what it means to be real for Jenner is one that must come from the working and middle class, but yet must be glamorized to maintain her socioeconomic presence. For Klein, to have Jenner personified in this world she seeks, he would need to borrow from it.
Individuals in wheelchairs have a right to be upset. The appropriation of their everyday experience for the attempted connection to the real world, and pseudo ails of a celebrity, are one that warranted backlash for Kylie Jenner can walk, but for a few moments, she chose to sit.