Another woman is squatting in front of her, snapping photographs with an old film camera. A waitress comes over.
“You’re making a lot of noise here," she says. "We’re going to have to ask you to stop taking pictures, or leave.”
The photographer, who is tiny and wearing a short, see-through black dress and black boots, stands up.
“Just one more, please,” she says, “then we’ll be done.”
The two women are enacting a grassroots living art performance known as the Permaid, a character who shows up in social media photos in different L.A. locales in her trademark black mermaid suit. She had her first major blip when the Ace Hotel instagrammed, to its 50,000 followers, a photo of her lounging next to its rooftop pool holding a peppermint-colored cocktail. This is art in the 21st century:
The two artists behind the the Permaid are Aeschleah DeMartino, a photographer, and Nicolette Mishkan, a fashion designer, best friends in their late 20s. DeMartino, who shoots for The Bold Italic
, Refinery 29
and Angeleno Magazine
, had the idea for an immersive public art project based in social media photography. When a friend gave Mishkan the Permaid suit for her birthday, DeMartino knew instantly it was what she’d been waiting for.
DeMartino draws her inspiration from Nikki S. Lee, a Cindy Sherman-esque photographer who blends in with different subcultures, like a chameleon. Lee shoots herself playing different characters — a hip-hop thug with braids, a trailer trash blonde — immersed in the subcultures she's infiltrated. The Permaid is sort of a reverse of Lee’s work — literally a fish-out-of-water who samples different subcultures throughout L.A., and can't help but stand out like a sore thumb.
Mishkan wears the suit, DeMartino sets the scenes and takes the photos. “We’re each others' muses,” says DeMartino. “We are the Permaid.”
DeMartino's photos are instantly provocative, but laced with melancholy. The Permaid has a disaffected malaise — like she’s going through the motions of life without really feeling anything.
DeMartino and Mishkan see the Permaid as having washed up on the beach and having been adopted by a Persian family in Malibu. “We’re creating a story for her based on our friends,” says Mishkan. “It’s about the Permaid trying to fit in, learning to accept that she doesn't belong in any circle.”
See also: 15 Things to Do in L.A. If You're Having a Bad Day
On Instagram, Permaid does what a lot of girls in L.A. do. She goes to the DMV. She shops at CVS. She gets too drunk. She stumbles upon a random biker party. She has a one night stand.
She also goes on Tinder dates.
Next: More details on Tinder dates
A woman in a full black body sleeve is sitting in a Caribbean restaurant in Silver Lake, the material glistening in the shredded dusk light coming through a blinded window. She’s holding a tortilla wrapped around a dead fish, and pretending to stuff it in her mouth.