Single channel collaborative video with Aja Segapeli, RT 04:17 Format of Flesh text excerpt by Jen Vaughn
Bathing is the only way of gaining weight without eating.2
Skin. This surface I carry with me, folding and flexing, fantastically indexical and marked by time, exposure, culture. Fickle and fleeting it is all at once the site of connection and the space of forever letting-go:
shedding-losing-shifting-shrinking growing-disappearing-rupturing repairing-expelling-repelling-absorbing
As an interface object, skin is that which is closest to the outside, tasked as an intermediary—communicating between the mind/body and the external world. This semipermeable osmotic membrane exchanges fluids and air according to the laws of partial pressure.3 As human bodies, we both gain and lose in this system of exchange, excreting water, ammonia, urea, salt, and sugar.
say: pur-spuh-RAY-shun (don’t sweat it, it’s only sweat)
The boundary conceived as skin is proved to frighteningly permeable, not only to a substance as innocent as water in the case of bathing, or to more frightful elements like poison and ultraviolet radiation, but also to the constructions of culture.
As matter, that matters, skin is a product of historical conditions. At certain historical moments, it is understood as the interface marking the limit with the outside, a border that feels, and flesh as the very sensibility of being seen and the very site of the sensible.4
“When anatomists count skin as an organ, it becomes the largest organ of all—and in that sense, skin is not merely a boundary between what we are and what we are not, but it is the body, and we ourselves are skin: we are interface, coating, and membrane.” 5
What of this skin-screen, site of bodily events, marker of cultural constructions, producer and consumer, subject-object? Used as a decoder, vision culls skin for aesthetic clues, attempting to look through its skin-screen for the content, medium, personhood. The skin-screen is fickle, all at once representational and misunderstood—it is the object of the subject, it is the subject wrestling with the object it is contained within. The space of physical form and arena of the gaze, all at once drawing in and reflecting assumptions and constructions as defined at that historical moment. Is the body, then, a format? Or is skin the format through which the medium of the body is carried? And what becomes of the body, skin, and embodiment when mediated through technology, screens? There is a shared slipperiness and power between skin and screens in implications of spectatorship, desire, bodies, space.
2 James Elkins, “Pictures of the Body: Affect and Logic” (second edition draft of Pictures of the Body: Pain and Metamorphosis, 2012), 21.
4 Maurice Merleau-Ponty, The Visible and the Invisible, trans. Alphonso Lingis (Evanston: Northwestern University Press, 1968), 142.
5 James Elkins, “Pictures of the Body: Affect and Logic” (second edition draft of Pictures of the Body: Pain and Metamorphosis, 2012), 18.