Essay by Ursula Cooper
SKIN SOFT FLESH investigates personal and social meanings which implicate emotional states of the body. Employing a range of media, this exhibition utilises the work of eight artists from seven different countries to take a broader perspective of how emotions can manifest themselves within physical pieces. Through this exhibition seemingly opposing strategies converge as some works employ methods of bondage induce a form of psychological anxiety while other materially driven techniques turn our attention to our emotional vulnerabilities. These binaries expose the fragile condition of having a body.
In Japanese Kinbaku means “tight binding,” a bondage technique where visually intricate patterns are created by rope to suspend a person’s body. In this collaborative work, Dee Lee and Yui Maki have substituted the suspension of flesh for multiple TV monitors. Each screen impedes a sense of surveillance. Through grainy footage we make out lips whispering inaudibly and eyes anxiously scanning. Finding ourselves encompassed in a synthesised soundscape, there is a sense uncertainty about what we are witnessing: whispering, tapping, and ringing; all these abstract threads lead us to an impeding sense of anxiousness. These creepy, voyeuristic, unstable moments all recall a visceral bodily experience.
This elaborate sounds installation is contrasted through the minimal, subtlety of with Quietly Breathing Together. Emma Helen Reid explores shared personal experiences that are embedded in many of our lives. Completely silent, footage of two foam earplugs positioned side by side has been manipulated to simulate a breathing process. The simplicity of the gesture reminds of shared human intimacy.
As a fetishised ritual, stretch PVC is often worn as a second skin. Master and Servant, stuck somewhere between a moment of domineering consent and unsettling constraint. Amanda Wolf has constructed a soft sculptural object, slumped, lifeless on the ground. Is this piece an object of domination or submission, or both?
Sarah Lüdemann also brings our attention back to the delicate vulnerability of physical flesh. Schnitzelprono presents a fixed frame of raw cut beef. Shot in slow motion, a palette of pink fleshy tones is both innocent and sexually pervasive; we are hypnotised, drawn in, watching each strike of brutality. Systematically a mallet comes down, hard, repeatedly banging against the wet, tender flesh until it is completely obliterated.
Absent wounds are shown through a large sheet of band aids. In All my little failures, Andrew McPhail evokes a flesh like surface engaging ideas of contact, protection the perception and revelation of identity. Viscerally beautiful, this artwork is suspended from above, providing an intimate viewing perspective, we are physically able to move within the piece. Intrigued by the complexity of its construction, it is easy to miss that All my little failures is comprised entirely of band aids. Struck by the weight of the piece we are offered an insight into the artist’s lived experience of hypochondria as a person living daily with HIV. On the realisation of the medium, concepts of contamination and fear impede this haunting piece.
This work plays between several dualities. Lauren May’s, Untitled is a painting of human skin onto black marble. Skin is explored as the outermost boundary of the body; this thin membrane separates our internal self from the outside. Conflicting ideas between soft and hard, light and heavy continue to converge. Thus, this imagery of the skin depicted on hard marble represents a constant state of separation of our internal and external world.
A dual channel video work I Could Learn to Love You and I Can’t Help Falling in Love examine simple interventions of the everyday through digitally mediated performance installation. This piece is a meditation that explores the body as a preternatural site. Eerie, visceral, isolating; it blurs boundaries between what might be invitation into the artist’s personal setting and the virtual as footage begins to fall outside the real. This work becomes an intimate embodiment of personal experience and yearning for connective understanding.
SKIN SOFT FLESH emphasises the push and pull which is necessitated between flesh and consciousness. Through contrasting subtly pervasive pieces with expressions of the physical self, this exhibition utilises physical dualities to uncover perspectives of how we a bound to our selves. Material and conceptual investigations come together in SKIN SOFT FLESH to remind us of tensions between our innermost and outermost self. The flesh binds us to our anxieties, our desires, our secrets and our weaknesses.
This work has culminated in a lace-like veil, large enough to cover the body completely. It acts as a second skin, an artificial barrier that both conceals and reveals.
This objects brings up a lot of issues for the artist, about health and hurt, and the kind of obsessive hypochondria that he sometimes gets, living with HIV. There is an escalating attention to the body when its health is being calculated. Any slight symptom can be magnified into a serious condition; a minor skin irritation can acquire a more threatening presence. Making the flesh like surface of the band aid form also evokes issues about contact and protection and the perception and revelation of identity. It’s labour intensive creation questions the priorities of our limited time.
Emma Helen Reid is an artist based in Glasgow, Scotland. Her practice incorporates video, writing, technology, sound, fabric, site, performance. She completed a master’s degree at the Glasgow School of Art in 2017.
Exploring personal, corporeal connections with – and through – technologies the artist examines themes that are embedded in many of our lives. Utilizing media technology to seek implications of self, and the ways we encounter one another. She is interested in how these experiences relate to privacy and intimacy, particularly within the context of a mass state which impedes surveillance on privacy and human rights.
Reid’s practice tries to better understand bodiesandminds and consider how lived experiences contributes to interconnectivity as a continual processes of becoming. She hopes that focusing on bodies provides a feminist framework to remain alert, continuing to focus on inequalities and oppression.
Las Vagas, USA
You are supple, sweet
Generous in form, full
Hard and Soft
Personal, of me
Yet other, fantastical
Foreign and Familiar
You fold and swell
Pucker and bulge
But without apology
You are tenderly provocative
Innocent and Erotic
Suspended in silent animation,
You float with conviction
Palpable with memory and emotion,
You are both a part and the whole
Stretch PVC is a material which evokes personal connotations of touch, play, and fetishised ritual. It is often worn as a second skin; tight, restrictive, and transformative. Through this lense, Master and Servant re-imagines the fantasy spaces and desires which may be activated by materiality and masquerade.
NNNI is a collaboration between Dee Lee and Yui Maki which creates immersive video and sound installations. Since its formation in 2017 the unit has been active in group exhibitions, solo exhibitions and live performances.
The collaboration’s works are composed of multiple projections, their TV monitors are suspended to structures such as ceilings and pillars, creating a spatial multi-media installation. This fused with a elaborate sound system has pushed the artists to realise the stereophonic sound of multiple speakers which fuses image expression to site specific spaces.
Motifs used in the works of NNNI often deal with tactile elements and utilise obscured imagery from self-portraiture featuring the body: nude, grainy, flesh. This imagery provides the viewer with a subjective sensation through experiencing the extraneous environment which NNNI creates. This piece is sound responsive and gives the work a sense of consciousness where it can react to it’s viewer, this is intended to evoke provocation of thought.
Slow motion fondling and systematic beating of a raw cut of beef. The only sound is the repetitive banging of the mallet against wet, tender flesh. The soft meat becomes visibly more ravaged on its surface as the hands occasionally pause to reposition and further fondle the supple delight. She wears a clean, white dress. Entranced by this ritual, emotions pour out of the mallet, some of which are explicitly expressed. Passion, aggression, take your pick. Then again-why not both? We don’t know to what ends the meat is being treated, or if it will invariably be consumed in the traditional sense of the word. Consumption has many branches, and the molestation and perpetual tormenting of the object falls within them.
The palette of pale pinks and white denote innocent yet carnally sexual tones to the ambiance within the footage. Sexy, violent sounds descend into the back of the head and then the room, completely engulfing the space. The video is in itself entrancing, and once encountered it is almost impossible to look away. Relentlessly pulverizing the schnitzel until the table is blanketed with tiny flecks of flesh, the aggressor’s face is not to be seen. After the massacre there is nothing left but a stringy, raped corpse. The beauty of its demise leaves the viewer feeling satisfied and post coital.
Siena Hart explores simple interventions of the everyday through digitally mediated performance and installation.
Adopting a collaged approach to the presentation of visual and metaphysical research, Hart provokes shared, but unique senses of intimacy and relation by probing audience’s fixed notions of subjectivity, identity and meaning; carving out a space between the universal and subjective real. With a focus on outward manifestations of embodied experience, vulnerability, anxiety, and the dialogue between the real and the imagined, Hart invites audiences to challenge the architecture of their own identities, perception, and memory.
New Zealand, based in Melbourne
The work is part of an ongoing investigation into the state and experience of inhabiting a body. The body is both self and not-self, a being and an object, in constant state of separating, and re-joining with the rest of the world. Skin is the outermost boundary of the self, a thin membrane, a tenuous and fragile barrier.