artists & participants
I cant tell where yours begins, I cant tell where mine ends Brown skin, up against my brown skin India Arie
The experiences we have with our bodies, from early infancy on, are tied to our body’s limits; to caresses, bumps, the feel of certain surfaces. Before birth we are limited to exploring the surfaces of the womb with our hands and feet. As early as the seventh week after conception we begin using our lips; ten weeks later we begin using the rest of our bodies. A baby’s first sensorial experience involves the sense of touch, used much sooner than sight. Heat, cold, pain, pleasure, lightness, heaviness, smoothness and roughness guide a baby through the world. For this very reason, Bruno Munari never stopped emphasizing the importance of a period of manipulation and touch awareness for children receiving art instruction.
The relationship established between an individual and the world is concentrated on contact zones, the skin, “ai confini del corpo” (at the borders of our body). This is precisely the title of an essay by the aesthete Franco Rella, written a few years ago, in which he unpretentiously explains several important concepts. Rella asks if a border can exist without also being a passage. The body is a “limit and a surplus.” Like a customs border, we add, it must allow for passage and exchange. But it is precisely this extreme, says Rella, which causes an inevitable sense of shame when we reveal ourselves to the scrutiny of others through nudity. Even though this is the way we define ourselves, the act of “unveiling” ourselves highlights our differences.
This becomes an initial way to “know” ourselves; through pleasure, through eros. Sensuality, however, isn’t the body’s only destiny, although it may seem so. Another path takes us back to ourselves, a path which involves suffering, illness, and old age. A troubled body lives its “confined” state during the endless hours of insomnia and finds its most intimate eroticism. As in the “critico messo a nudo” by Bonito Oliva or the Sexual Life of Cathrine M. (Millet), director of Art Press, Franco Rella tells us about his body; and he does so through his self-erotic experiences. It couldn’t be otherwise. The book not only speaks of the body as a border, it also speaks “from” the body. This is inevitable. It is precisely the body that writes and describes itself. It is, in short, the place where the history of man is written - his loves, his suffering, his searching. A complex place which Proust’s Recherche describes as “time rediscovered” (from the body – through writing).
The theme of “skin” in literature and philosophy is not particularly recurrent. On the other hand, it is quite present in our artistic cultural heritage - in the “flesh” of paintings or in “polished” marble. It is so present and implicit that even today, by means of the portrait, the figure portrait, performances or photography, many artists represent the body’s surface in many new ways. Let’s follow their trail and provide some examples and ideas for further investigations, using the concepts and themes suggested by Rella.
To the Extreme Our skin is the surface which separates us from the external world. It is a semi-permeable and sentient membrane through which our bodies establish a tactile connection with others. The mother/son relationship, of which Marlene Dumas speaks in her watercolor “Mamma”, is realized both because of skin and inside of skin. It is a difficult relationship, and difficult for the artist to get to the heart of the subject. For this reason, the model is depicted in various positions. But the brush strokes, so expressive and troubled, do not solve the mystery. The fluid and powerful colors lap onto the body without revealing it. In Dumas’ “Ghost,” the sleeping body is also impenetrable, despite the threat of a looming presence. Its nightmares are internally imprisoned, and once they escape, separate from the body.
Enzo Cucchi, on the contrary, paints with light and transparent brush strokes. His painting “Roma” (1990) speaks of a social man and his dreams. Man is an inhabitant of the city while being inhabited by it. The walls of homes are the skin of a fabric rich with history. Doors and windows are opened across the perimeters; tales, legends and fantasies are told. The body is a crossroad for places and memories, a magnet which attracts objects of affection and micro-histories.
Moving from the Italian genius loci to the American “melting pot,” we discover striking differences, though still in the same postmodern family which includes the Transavanguardia and the Nuovi Selvaggi. The idea of a crossing is expressed by David Salle by means of what has been called the “assassination of painting.” Images, without any apparent connection, are placed near each other and are superimposed with decorative elements, patterns, and ornamental markings of different origins. His work mixes the language of television and cinema, billboards and arabesque murals - without interruption, like a relay through which everything passes. Everything communicates with everything else. Try the internet and believe it.
Showing off In the performances of Vanessa Beecroft, the body, whether covered, partially undressed, or nude, is shown off and displayed by models who form large human compositions. Their bodies function as pictorial materials, forms and colors. Forced to stay in the same position for long periods of time, they show their embarrassment, their emotions, their modesty, their irritation, their boredom, and even possibly their shame as time passes. The body is offered to the cold gazes of others; there is no escape.
There’s an expression, “in one’s pelt”. Anselm Kiefer appears nude in this way in his work with a photographic base, where he claims to “hold all of India in his hands.” But he seems rather besieged by a sunken and unknown Atlantis. Kiefer is observed and impotent. His nudity is a sign of his inertia. His shameless exposure proclaims that he has overcome a sense of guilt of which we cannot know the origin.
Differences Luigi Ontani looks at his own body from the outside. He dresses it as if it were a doll. He covers his skin with draperies, togas and cloaks. He undresses it, he lays it out, he poses it, he photographs and paints it as if it were a character from a private theatre, where sexual, social, and historical (or mythical) roles are continually swapped; as with this San Giorgio(Eufrosino), who prays in front of an inoffensive dragon; a puppet on a colorful merry-go-round, a “ring-around-the-rosey” of hypotheses and identities.
Chris Ofili, on the other hand, explores cultural identity as an Englishman by adoption. His canvases painted with elephant excrement created a scandal. The provocation, however, consisted in shouting out and claiming his own identity. The watercolor in this exhibition also explores this diversity by comparing the black skin of an African woman in traditional dress with the Western method of setting up a beautiful ¾ portrait pose.
Donatella Di Cicco’s models are dressed with clothes from their own closets; outfits for an evening out, for the beach, or for feeling sexy. However, the artist portrays them in artificial poses that are out of context. Their skin seems to sparkle on fake backgrounds, their hairstyles seem more real than the leaves on the trees and the landscape. In one of the “Dolls,” the self-confidence and intense gaze of the model are striking. Identity is defined by difference. The greater the difference, the more one’s identity stands out.
“As I get closer to another body, I discover the other,” says Rella. The two faces in Sandro Chia’s painting (1991) demonstrate this realization. The two faces are like two masks. “Mask” in Latin means “person.” A person is one who interprets a social role; one who discovers this role through the asymmetrical relationship with the other.
Desire In caresses. In the perfume of a man or woman’s skin. There is desire in the breasts of the attractive blond girl which Gianmarco Montesano mischievously reveals in his 1975 painting. The dancers are hidden behind their carnival costumes, wrapped with streamers. Delicately, the girl’s escort uncovers her breasts. Her shoulder and breasts are the only areas of skin emerging from the fabric of her costume, thus making them appear even more bare.
Yoshitomo Nara offers a more ironical version of this mechanism. The mischievous tail of his boxer “manga” comically contrasts with the menacing expression on his face. A revolting detail which perhaps reminds us of a membrum virile, catching the spectator’s full attention. That which happens when nudity appears unexpectedly.
When nudity dominates instead, as in Francesco Clemente’s work, we are beyond being seduced. His femme fatale, with long hair, imprisons a microscopic “Omou.” Actually, she appears to strangle him, indifferent or compelled by the whirl of destructive desire. The wind pulls at their bodies; it irons them; it deforms them into a circular and catabolic movement.
Suffering The skin rips opens and explodes. If our skin were like armour, we would not be able to caress each other. It would also be more difficult to hurt one another. Raymond Pettibon describes the quality of a scene with pulp zest; it is the illustration of an exceptional homicide - the bullet which enters President Kennedy’s head while he is greeting America from his car. The myth is recounted like a popular Dick Tracey comic strip, but with Tarantino’s excessive violence.
Robert Gligorov opposes the wonder of manipulated images with a ruthless fascination with crime. The images are mixed and modified, sampled and cloned. Surrealism is applied to graphic design. A piece of epithelial tissue becomes a construction brick - clinical coldness. Thus the theme regarding the relationship between skin and walls returns: to dress with clothes, and then with buildings which comprise the urban fabric, and, in a more general sense, our social being. Cell upon cell, brick upon brick; pieces.
Insomnia Two spirits watch over a resting man in the large pastel by Mimmo Paladino. We don’t know if his eyes are open or closed. We do know, however, by the arched position of his body and the way he clutches the blanket, that he expresses anxiety. We can feel the weight and substance of his body. His limbs are the theatre of a battle, which leaves its marks of red and white on the skin.
If during the night, our bodies present themselves with heavy and brutal clarity, Nan Goldin’s nightime roaming of Bangkok, New York and in Paris is a way of escaping this responsibility. Her series of snapshots, usually presented in thematic slide shows, speak about her private life, her friendships, her contact with the drug world, her boyfriends, the local prostitutes, transsexuals and drag queens. There is a lot of pleasure and a lot of pain, a lot of sex and a lot of tears in these rough and instantaneous shots; AIDS, love, Nan’s life, an entire generation.
Time When skin is “under pressure” it can flake off and show the signs and language of the streets: words written on walls, scribbles on kids’ jackets and knapsacks. In the work of Erik Parker everything becomes skin. The canvas itself is covered with graffiti, and words are framed in bizarre clouds of coloured and knotted entrails. The body and skin are signs, a notebook on which to write a life story.
It is significant that this millennium opened with a filmic masterpiece such as Memento by Christopher Nolan. More than in Greenaway, the plot, which is unveiled through a series of flashbacks, is an anthem to skin as writing. Following a violent aggression, the main character, Leonard Shelby, completely loses his short-term memory. He forgets faces and names, places and circumstances, facts which took place only a few minutes earlier. But hatred and the desire to avenge the death of his wife help him devise ways to remember, ways to remember how not to forget. He learns to do his own tattoos. By writing all over his skin, he remembers his identity, events, and his life purpose.
Skin can be covered, masked, embellished, shown, used to create an identity, a code or a stratification of languages, an accumulation of city signs, tattoos and piercing by the young set. It is a metaphor, inside and outside, a personal and collective memory.
In the work of Sihrin Neshat, the skin is a place for writing. It indicates a personal and cultural identity. It reminds one of his origin. It is like a chain that cannot be broken. It forces us to be individuals in the midst of other individuals. It indicates our age, our story, our social status, our sex and our ethnic heritage. Skin is all that can be seen of our bodies. It is a screen that projects an identity. Even if covered by a veil or burka, it maintains and even increases the force of communication. It is skin; denied skin, hidden skin, secret skin. In the end, the body is still there, secret and mysterious. And yet it is our body. It is what we are. We are our body, hidden under the skin, sometimes so dangerous, sometimes so foreign.
only in german
Kurator: Matteo Chini
mit Vanessa Beecroft, Sandro Chia, Donatella di Cicco, Francesco Clemente, Enzo Cucchi, Marlene Dumas, Robert Gligorov, Nan Goldin, Anselm Kiefer, Gian Marco Montesano, Yoshitomo Nara, Shirin Neshat, Chris Ofili, Luigi Ontani, Mimmo Paladino, Erik Parker, Raymond Pettibon, David Salle