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The same day I sat down to write about Siena Barnes’ work, an influencer had gone viral on the internet for being photographed pulling her hazmat suit down at Chernobyl, exposing her ass.

In light of life now imitating the specific kind of art most often found in Ballard novels, films by David Cronenberg, and the alarmist techno-melodrama of Black Mirror, commenting on the juxtaposition of opposing good-bad forces in news or in commerce is almost impossible to do with grace.

Eroticism meets with violence daily; advertising and the promise of eventual annihilation, always easy bedfellows, now seem to be in a monogamous life-partnership.

A Google search for “dystopia” produces a little over forty-two million results.

I am meant to believe that a woman taking one last Uber job en route to giving birth is an inspiring example of the work ethic of modern freelancers, and I am supposed to believe that the model-activist Emily Ratajkowski — who once appeared on film smearing her entirely flawless body with spaghetti bolognaise while wearing lingerie, for feminism — cannot wait for us to “stop confusing shitty capitalism with feminism, thanks,” according to her Instagram account.Siena_Barnes_BimboSiena_Barnes_Bimbo

When life becomes unsatirisable, the smartest artists lean in rather than fall down. At first blush, Barnes’ illustrations are as logo-like and dexterously seductive as the forms they are critiquing: a nymph-girl with a wide, money-shot mouth, the blood-red slogan/strapline hollering LET’S MAKE AMERICA; a trifecta of babes, one topless and two armed, alongside the blasé announcement of ANOTHER AMERICAN HIGH SCHOOL SHOOTING. AWESOME BRAND, another poster screams above an illustration of a soft-core model, dribbling what may or may not be cum. (Emily Ratjakowski, who might see the idea of toplessness being an AWESOME BRAND as either “shitty capitalism” or an egregious breach of copyright, would no doubt be entirely horrified.)

These are advertisements for sex and death, which is to say that they are like all other advertisements as viewed through the glasses from They Live.

It is wild, now, to remember legal cigarette advertisements, which filtered something lethal through the prism of erotic promise, or to think of Page Three’s “News in Briefs,” its topless girls and fabricated philosophical opinions — “As French philosopher Voltaire observed,” Sarah from Middlesex suggests, “‘no snowflake in an avalanche ever feels responsible’” — often situated next to serial murders, domestic attacks, terror threats, war, illuminating rape statistics.

It is wild that both things, seen in retrospect, seem positively quaint.Siena_Barnes_Film_StillSiena_Barnes_Film_Still

More than the Chernobyl influencer with the perfect ass, what Barnes’ illustrations call to mind is a photograph of the singer Britney Spears in a pink t-shirt, emblazoned with the perceptive logo I AM THE AMERICAN DREAM.

As a visual metaphor, it has reappeared countless times in countless things I’ve written over the last six or seven years, all circling back to its divine approximation of a boom destined to lead to an almighty crash, its almost impossible irony: taken in 2004, a little after Spears got married to her oafish backing dancer, Kevin Federline, and three years before her eventual shaven-headed breakdown, it is illustrative of a very noughties image of celebrity.

Bare-faced, beaming and wearing sweatpants, Spears is the platonic ideal of a star from humble stock, a self-made millionaire whose millions owe their existence to a specific mode of marketing that prizes scandal, youth and beauty more than it does sanity or skill.Siena_Barnes_Film_Still_2Siena_Barnes_Film_Still_2

Viewed retrospectively, it is also impossible not to consider the containment of her future tragedy in her front-facing statement, in her hot body itself. PERSONALITY CULT, her t-shirt might have said, or AWESOME BRAND.

Like Barnes’ Indian ink drawings, the image of Spears as THE AMERICAN DREAM is both perfect advertising and a work of art, coquettish and alarming in its suggestion of violence.

It is hard to imagine an image more analogous to the style or the message of her work, making it satisfying to learn — in an email correspondence with the artist — that someday she hopes to make a painting of it.

Philippa Snow

Bylines for Artforum, Sight & Sound, GARAGE and Tank

Siena_Barnes_Film_Still_3Siena_Barnes_Film_Still_3

The same day I sat down to write about Siena Barnes’ work, an influencer had gone viral on the internet for being photographed pulling her hazmat suit down at Chernobyl, exposing her ass.

In light of life now imitating the specific kind of art most often found in Ballard novels, films by David Cronenberg, and the alarmist techno-melodrama of Black Mirror, commenting on the juxtaposition of opposing good-bad forces in news or in commerce is almost impossible to do with grace.

Eroticism meets with violence daily; advertising and the promise of eventual annihilation, always easy bedfellows, now seem to be in a monogamous life-partnership.

A Google search for “dystopia” produces a little over forty-two million results.

I am meant to believe that a woman taking one last Uber job en route to giving birth is an inspiring example of the work ethic of modern freelancers, and I am supposed to believe that the model-activist Emily Ratajkowski — who once appeared on film smearing her entirely flawless body with spaghetti bolognaise while wearing lingerie, for feminism — cannot wait for us to “stop confusing shitty capitalism with feminism, thanks,” according to her Instagram account.

When life becomes unsatirisable, the smartest artists lean in rather than fall down. At first blush, Barnes’ illustrations are as logo-like and dexterously seductive as the forms they are critiquing: a nymph-girl with a wide, money-shot mouth, the blood-red slogan/strapline hollering LET’S MAKE AMERICA; a trifecta of babes, one topless and two armed, alongside the blasé announcement of ANOTHER AMERICAN HIGH SCHOOL SHOOTING. AWESOME BRAND, another poster screams above an illustration of a soft-core model, dribbling what may or may not be cum. (Emily Ratjakowski, who might see the idea of toplessness being an AWESOME BRAND as either “shitty capitalism” or an egregious breach of copyright, would no doubt be entirely horrified.)

These are advertisements for sex and death, which is to say that they are like all other advertisements as viewed through the glasses from They Live.

It is wild, now, to remember legal cigarette advertisements, which filtered something lethal through the prism of erotic promise, or to think of Page Three’s “News in Briefs,” its topless girls and fabricated philosophical opinions — “As French philosopher Voltaire observed,” Sarah from Middlesex suggests, “‘no snowflake in an avalanche ever feels responsible’” — often situated next to serial murders, domestic attacks, terror threats, war, illuminating rape statistics.

It is wild that both things, seen in retrospect, seem positively quaint.

More than the Chernobyl influencer with the perfect ass, what Barnes’ illustrations call to mind is a photograph of the singer Britney Spears in a pink t-shirt, emblazoned with the perceptive logo I AM THE AMERICAN DREAM.

As a visual metaphor, it has reappeared countless times in countless things I’ve written over the last six or seven years, all circling back to its divine approximation of a boom destined to lead to an almighty crash, its almost impossible irony: taken in 2004, a little after Spears got married to her oafish backing dancer, Kevin Federline, and three years before her eventual shaven-headed breakdown, it is illustrative of a very noughties image of celebrity.

Bare-faced, beaming and wearing sweatpants, Spears is the platonic ideal of a star from humble stock, a self-made millionaire whose millions owe their existence to a specific mode of marketing that prizes scandal, youth and beauty more than it does sanity or skill.

Viewed retrospectively, it is also impossible not to consider the containment of her future tragedy in her front-facing statement, in her hot body itself. PERSONALITY CULT, her t-shirt might have said, or AWESOME BRAND.

Like Barnes’ Indian ink drawings, the image of Spears as THE AMERICAN DREAM is both perfect advertising and a work of art, coquettish and alarming in its suggestion of violence.

It is hard to imagine an image more analogous to the style or the message of her work, making it satisfying to learn — in an email correspondence with the artist — that someday she hopes to make a painting of it.

Philippa Snow

Bylines for Artforum, Sight & Sound, GARAGE and Tank