Erik Kessels protests plastic surgery with a skatepark papered in pouts

Kessels’ unsettling Destroy My Face installation at Breda Photo invites skateboarders to ride over photographs of women that have undergone plastic surgery

“Plastic surgery has become something pretty normal in today’s society,” wrote Kessels in an email to CR. “However, when taken overboard these surgeries can result in deformation and transforms mankind into monsters.”

In response to this, Kessels has created Destroy My Face – a normal skate ramp that’s been wallpapered in images of enhanced and modified faces. Guests are invited to skateboard over the ramp, gradually distorting and destroying the faces as time goes by.

According to the artist, who’s a co-founder of creative agency KesselsKramer, it’s a comment on our current “photographic renaissance”, which is seeing more images made than ever before. “We consume images like fast food; en masse, shovelling them in with reckless abandon,” explains Kessels.

“Like the food we consume, it’s designed to look perfect but is often devoid of any real substance. The same can be said on how we present the image of ourselves online. Being Insta-perfect has become the norm instead of the exception.”

It is certainly easy to recognise Kessels’ point. The easy use of filters – and the increased accessibility of plastic surgery – has undoubtedly given many of us a greater obsession with our looks than ever before.

Yet, the installation majorly misses a trick by not including images of men – who are influenced by the same preoccupations. The artwork is certainly a playful comment on society’s obsession with self image and plastic surgery, yet its focus only on women, and their ‘erasure’, creates a disturbing undertone of how we tackle such compulsions and the damage they can cause – which will likely raise debate.

UPDATE: After receiving an open letter from artists and organisations, questioning the apparent violence of Destroy My Face, both Kessels and BredaPhoto have issued statements.

“The intention of this work is ironic and intends to evoke a dialogue about self acceptance,” writes Kessels, who’s also clarified that the images were generated by machine learning, drawing on both male and female plastic surgery portraits. “Of course it doesn’t mean to encourage violence against women. With this work I never wanted to offend anyone, but when reading recent comments online, I understand I’ve done so and I apologise for that. In my opinion the function of art in society is to start dialogues and I continue to believe in that.”

FURTHER UPDATE: Following the significant criticism that Erik Kessels’ artwork has faced, Pier15 Skatepark, which is hosting the exhibition for Breda Photo, has decided to remove the artwork. Pier15 released the following statement on Instagram:

“Since the opening of Breda Photo, the installation of Erik Kessels has evoked different reactions than we anticipated. Sadly, the association with misogyny has been predominant on social media.

Of course, this was not the intention of the project and it was never the objective of Pier15 Skatepark to evoke these feelings. We hereby sincerely apologise to all that have been hurt by this project.

Pier15 stands for an open community and highly values mutual respect and equality. A place that stimulates self development in the field of sports, culture and art. Pier15 has been founded with these core values and will continue to keep committed to these values.

During the development of this project Pier15 has given its consent for the installation of this artwork in the skatepark. What was meant as an artwork to start a dialogue on the manufacturability of our current visual culture, turned out to evoke different associations. This was never our intention. We see that the work of Erik Kessels has been interpreted differently than the dialogue that the work was meant to start. We heard you and understand your criticism and fully take responsibility.

With this in our mind, Pier15 has made the decision to remove this artwork from our skatepark.

We understand the discussion about art, what art can be and what it can unleash. However, first of all – we are a skatepark. A skatepark where people can feel safe and be themselves.”

Destroy My Face is at Breda’s Skatepark Pier15 until October 25;