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Ming Yuan

07.05. - 12.05.2022

Photo: Theresa Büchner

The Perfect Smile: Six Teeth Shown

Smiling is a key social signal for transmitting emotions and reacting to others. However personal it may be, learning how to smile is a routine task for young people aspiring a job placement as flight attendants in some airlines, which expect their employees the ability to deliver a friendly smile displaying six teeth of the upper dental arcade. Appropriated as part of the flying experience, being assisted by pleasant stewards smiling welcomingly becomes part of the business. A sign of emotions is thus converted into a standardized product designed to suppress the workers’ subjectivity. This power relation over the body requires developing the capacity to conceal one’s sensations and withstand unpleasant circumstances, maintaining an affable countenance.

Photos: Theresa Büchner

For The Perfect Smile: Six Teeth Shown, Ming Yuan isolates this facial signal — humanly innate but turned mechanical by consumer logic—as an element representative of the primary condition within labor relations: the exchange of labor power for income. Exploring the complexity of this modern human condition beyond its raw instrumentality, the artist focus on the individual’s power to overcome adversity to guarantee one’s survival.

Nevertheless, each person experiences different limits for resilience, and emotions cannot be indefinitely put on hold. An exercise of patience is rendered in They Are Stretching Her As She Smiles, where a handcrafted biomorphic Mohair net sustains round ceramic elements menacing to take advantage of the interaction produced by gravity and the knitted fabric’s elasticity for falling over the fabricated grins. The tension between the self’s subjectivity and the expected homogeneous human behavior is also explored through the material contrast the installation evokes by overlaying handcraft and computer generated elements.

Photos: Theresa Büchner

Prints on the walls play with the friction between feeling overwhelmed and the concealed stress, generating an ambiguity from the glowing green light over the skin of female workers—undecidedly expressing an internal or external state of emergency. Whereas the perfect smile is a requisite achieved via intense training, genuinely grinning is the reward for those who patiently learned to thrive amid adversity.

Victor Zaiden

Photo: Theresa Büchner