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SUBSTRATE

SUBSTRATE – An Exhibition by Amy Kathryn Watson in fulfillment of Master’s in Fine Art.

COMPLEXION: SKIN, SURFACE AND DEPTH IN CONTEMPORARY ART PRACTICE

“In this thesis I explore the skin as material, medium and metaphor in contemporary art. The skin
is a supple semi-permeable membrane that maintains the integrity of the body, providing a
boundary for the body, and serves as the medium of passage or interchange between the body
and its environment. It is the body’s most visible surface, a sensitive signifier, within which the
body’s sensory faculties are embedded, and the organ that offers the body the touch sense in
particular. I look to skin as zeitgeist, and locate the significance of skin in metaphors of abject
frailty and hardened impenetrability, which emerges from contemporary crises of identity,
boundary and limit as conditions of a post-modern, globalised culture. I show how these crises
have emerged through modes of medical, scientific and artistic practices that have attempted to
order, categorise and delimit the body, privileging visuality and rationality in particular. In this
process the skin has been ‘separated’ from the body, both physically in the act of medical
dissection and metaphorically in the separation between skin and psyche. I look to associated,
and deeply relational, concepts of surface and depth (the abject); opticality and tactility (the
haptic); intimacy and distance (scale) to explore both how the skin has come to be framed
through fragmenting and abstracting modes of knowledge, and the possibility of a
phenomenological approach, which argues for an embodied engagement with, and knowledge
of, the skin. I consider the work of two woman artists, Jeanne Silverthorne and Penny Siopis,
who create ‘actual skins’ and evoke metaphors of skin in their respective oeuvres. In considering
how my own body of work explores the notion of skin, I provide a critical framework for the
reception of the body of work submitted for this degree.”

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