“Beauty knows no pain” is a phrase that, upon closer scrutiny, is shocking and disturbing. The French artist Annette Messager (*1943 in Berck) began pursuing this idea in the seventies when she assembled photographs from magazines for her groundbreaking series Les Tortures Volontiers (Voluntary Torture).
In Messager’s photographs, which are as alarming as they are absurd, breasts are lifted into suction cups, thighs are massaged with electricity, exfoliations look as if a second layer of skin is being peeled off. Yet the laughter sticks in the viewer’s throat, because women all around the world still actually submit themselves to these and other procedures in order to look more like the norm and more “beautiful.”
Messager recently rediscovered these prints in her studio. This is the first time the eighty-one-part series has been published in its entirety and in its original size. In the accompanying essay, the artist, whose work has been exhibited multiple times at the documenta, discusses the genesis of the series.