Brief Reflections on Attachment: 'between' and the skin wearable

Firstly some background... Over the past year much of my work has involved treating the skin as a wearable by creating temporal custom jewellery and seeing what possibilities come out of subverting accepted practices of adornment.

This has been a process of (un)learning by abandoning assumed sites of adornment (outcome: jewellery for the inner nostril), addressing preciousness (outcome: gold leaf shaped by the lived experience of the wearer's body and movements), and challenging cultural assumptions surrounding beauty practices (outcome: tan lines from a lurid artificial tan in the form of enormous, lacy sebaceous glands).

Working with the skin as wearable has required an ethical, theoretical and practical awareness of the organ's porosity. Initial experimentation with temporal wearables has developed into a practice that places emphasis on collaborations, the philosophy of perception, social signification, and the properties of individual bodyscapes. The physical 'attachment' of skin and wearable is by necessity brief, and the skin left ultimately untouched at the end of the wearable life. The focus becomes memory, codification, and the constitution of experience.
Tarryn Handcock. Tanlines (day 1). Artificial tan, sebaceous gland lace, carbon transfer. 2010. Photo: Matthew Burgess

Now to the present... 

Both teaching and a recent return to creating tangible objects has led me to survey the realm of the wearable with new eyes. A latent fascination with methods of joining has resurfaced, along with a growing awareness of what it means to attach artefacts to our person in a particular way, and for a particular period.

The (current) title of my thesis  is ‘Nostalgic Skin’: dissipating boundaries, between body and wearable. More discussion at a later date, but the term most pertinent to this reflection is 'between'. That's a cracker of a word isn't it? Slippery, oscillating, amorphous, adrift. In joining and attaching objects/materials to the body 'between' becomes a murky trope. States form 'between' skin and wearable spatially, physically, psychologically, and symbolically.
 Cinnamon Lee. Covert Jewels. 2011.

The matter at hand... Established in jewellery theory is the duality of the worn object as both a signifier for an audience and an artefact imbued with personal value. Established too, in this is the dichotomy between the intimate interior of the ring and its outer, public face. Reveal/conceal, as beautifully illustrated by Cinnamon Lee's recent work, Covert Jewels shown at Metalab, is often about the private experience hidden from the world at large, between the object and wearer.

For wearables in direct contact with the skin - garments, prosthetics and medical aids, jewellery-objects like necklaces, earrings, bracelets, rings - this is a relatively direct relationship of skin to non-skin material. The methods of 'attachment' to the body include, but are by no means limited to, encirclement, piercing, suction, wrapping, and tension. Between skin and wearable there is a perceptual relationship formed around sensory input from the object's materiality, method of wear, site, biofeedback, memory, and imaginative possibilities inspired by the experience of the artefact with the lived body over a period of time. This relationship is based on the assumption that these artefacts are removable, but that enduring relationships can result in an incorporation into body schema and self-identity. There may be a clear distinction between the intimate, personal zones of the artefact (the socket of a prosthetic, interior of a ring, hook of an earring, inner seam of a dress) and the zones that are public. These are most often established in accordance with the concealed/revealed zones of skin, the private areas forming out of the experience generated 'between' skin and wearable.

(left) Kathleen JacksonSkin: Necklace. Prosthetic gelatine jewellery attached to the wearer using prosthetic adhesive, prosthetic gelatine blender, and rubber mask grease paints

(right) Tiffany Parbs. Rash. 2004. Skin and rash from allergic reaction.

A question...

What does it mean for the skin to be implied in the 'wearable'? I have stood by the interpretation that the 'wearable' is an entity that implies the body and may be worn or borne by it. Yet what it means to 'attach' this to the skin of the body has become something of a contentious issue.  

The garment, jewellery-object, cosmetics, prosthetics, and medical aids are all worn in direct contact with the skin and have distinct socially encoded and functional properties. Body modification practices including implants, artifical organs, bone replacements and tattoos are assimilated into the body on a permanent basis, the skin barrier willfully torn asunder. And nano-technology, oils, energy waves, dusts, bacteria, parasites and viruses all traverse the porous skin membrane to be carried with the body and be manifested in various ways. Not only are the methods of attachment at issue, but the very ascertainment of boundary and what might not be worn, borne or attached to the body by some means or another is at stake.
The contemporary wearable could be attached through means previously unacknowledged - absorbed and embedded in our being, or ingrained in our surface. It could be slowly dissipating like dust motes in sunlight, suspended on our outer layers of garments, absorbed as an oil, projected from the body, or shed like fleeting clouds of dandelion spores in our wake.

more thoughts to come...

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