Under My Skin exhibition curated by Mona Kuhn featured on Foam Blog
"A photograph (is) a rubbing or rubbing away of a body." (1) - Jean-Luc Nancy
In our look upon the other, they are already image, are image before a camera is even considered, before the photograph is created and fixed. The bodies that surround us exist as surface, as resemblance. Nancy speaks of the essence of the photographic being in its flesh, within the body (of photographer, subject and viewer). It is then strangeness, foreignness that characterises from the very beginning any relationship to the skin of the other and to the photograph
"What makes the photograph possible ... is that in the photo it is a question of the body: it is the body that grasps, and it is the body that is grasped and released. It is the body, its thin surface that is detached and removed by the film. This is the physics and the chemistry of the instant, the force of gravity of the click, this curvature, space and this impalpable lightness of a vision that precipitates and coagulates into a thickness of skin, a density of touch." (2)
In Joel-Peter Witkin's 'Glassman', careless imprecise stitches run the length of the corpse, holding together that which will no longer heal, skin that has relinquished its function. These piercing stitches roughly piece back together this no longer containing body, excess seeping from every puncture wound in his decaying flesh. Surviving a violent unzipping is Sophie Ristelhueber's turned away female nude, 'Every One'. Equally brutal stitches run the length of her spine, following its seductive curve, forcefully pulling skin back together in a mirroring of 'Glassman's' torso. This unrelated couple, affect one another: she animating him, whilst he in turn makes her miraculous survival and abject beauty even more corpse-like and ungraspable. She displays her wound in a gesture echoing both classical and modernist femininity, as well as a language of forensic, medical documentation. His corpse is propped up on a metal contraption, half morgue gurney, half 19thC photographic device to hold the living still during long exposures. Sacrificial in gaze and pose, the dirtied, bloodied skin, inked fingers (presumably in an attempt to identify the body) and parted lips recall ecstatic saints, exhaling one last exhausted breath.
This fictional wounded couple of mine become all skin, reminding me that we are made and unmade by the touch of the other, who is always surface, exteriority and epidermis, their alterity confounding itself paradoxically at its most extreme within the erotic encounter. Thus, the relation to the other is not one of ecstatic seamless fusion, but rather a relation to the unknown and unknowable. It is their exteriority and their alterity that constitutes their entire existence. Within this wrapping around and being enwrapped by the other, the lover becomes consumed, annihilated as other, becomes image, idol and disappears, encrypted within this movement.
The photograph and photographic apparatus underlines a corporeal trace, an index, a theatrical medium in which desire is enacted. Within the studio, behind the camera, faced with the flesh of the other, my body is invisible, whilst nothing other than my desire is imaged. Both subject and myself disappear, melting into one, melting into a fictional fantasy, unseen image-maker more present than the body depicted. I am the photograph's stain, the shadow hovering, the desiring eye that cannibalistically, gently and in complete silence devours the body that has given itself to me.
Artist Mona Kuhn has curated a show at Flowers Gallery in NY, "Under My Skin: Nudes in Contemporary Photography",(3) which takes this relationship between the photographic and flesh as its starting point, bringing together recent and new works by contemporary artists working with the nude."
(1) Jean-Luc Nancy. The Ground of the Image. New York: Fordham University Press, 2005, p. 107.
(3) Under My Skin: Nudes in Contemporary Photography. Curated by Mona Kuhn
Flowers Gallery, 20 June - 27 July, 2013
529 West 20th Street, New York