Truth and nail: Artist opens confessional nail salon installation

Curtain call: The former office space will contain rows of glittery curtains, which visitors must pass through on their way to a manicure.
Brooklyn Paper
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She’s nailing down answers.

A performance artist will turn an empty office in Clinton Hill into a glittering combination of a confession booth and nail salon this weekend. The art installation “No. 1 Pretty,” opening on Jan. 20, draws on the creator’s experience giving manicures at an Upper East Side nail salon and then doing nails out of her home — two vastly different experiences that led her to examine the power dynamic between nail artists and their customers.

“I would notice working at the nail salon how many people are so open with these nail artists and would kind of build this relationship with them, but it was kind of this one-way interaction. For some of them, it was like a therapy session,” said Aya Rodriguez-Izumi, who lives in the distant isle of Manhattan’s Harlem neighborhood. “The experience of doing nails out of my house was something that was really interesting, and kind of a service for the people in my community. It was a really different kind of interaction from those that happened in the nail salon space.”

In the installation, visitors must make a solo appointment to pass through a tinsel-curtained room, where Rodriguez-Izumi — her face hidden behind a mirror-like barrier — will give them a manicure. During the session, she will ask intimate questions designed to probe their subconscious hopes and dreams. Their answers will determine what sort of manicure and nail art they receive, said Rodriguez-Izumi.

“You can never expect how people will receive or interact with a performance, and this will expose what’s most on that viewer’s mind,” she said. “It’s going to be an opportunity for people to reveal what they are thinking about, and it’s really going to depend on what the viewer brings to the experience. The nails will be a unique response to each person and act as a talisman or tether to the experience.”

The artist hopes to transform the typical beauty ritual into more of a reciprocal exchange, and that her faux customers will be more mindful about how they treat service workers in the future.

“Although there is no monetary exchange happening, the viewer is giving something of value — be it their time, a personal story, or a piece of their own history,” Rodriguez-Izumi said.

“No. 1 Pretty” at Chashama (470 Vanderbilt Ave. between Fulton Street and Atlantic Avenue in Clinton Hill, By appointment, Jan. 20–21, 24, 27–28, 31, and Feb. 3; noon–6 pm. Free.

Reach reporter Julianne McShane at (718) 260–2523 or by e-mail at Follow her on Twitter @juliannemcshane.
Updated 5:50 pm, July 9, 2018
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