Flesh as Surface

“And I must go with stone feet / Down the staircase of flesh”
—Ern Malley

In the visual arts the past few years there’s been a slough of works that foreground the flesh, shoot meat in macro, and appropriate skin as texture.(Corpus as corpus.)

We have Seth Price’s Danny, Mila, Hannah, Ariana, Bob, Brad, which showed at PS1 in 2018. Ed Halter at 4 Columns writes:

It only takes a moment of closer inspection to see that what look like video screens are actually light boxes covered with ultra-high-definition images printed on some sort of translucent material; it quickly becomes clear that the textures are not landscapes but extremely magnified portions of human skin. Miniscule wrinkles have been blown up into an intricate lattice of triangular intersections, concatenating across patchy fields of unevenly distributed melanin. The effect of this quasi-medical grotesque is reminiscent of the visit to Brobdingnag, the island of giants, in Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels: witnessing a group of titanic maidens en déshabillé, the protagonist expresses not libertine delight but rather “horror and disgust,” since “their skins appeared so coarse and uneven, so variously colored, when I saw them near, with a mole here and there as broad as a trencher.”

We have Peter Clough at UHaul Gallery in 2019 (left) and Jen Catron and Paul Outlaw at Postmaster’s Gallery (right):

Bodies in general have been in for a while, so it makes sense that their envelope’s followed. Hunter’s Rotem Linial and Columbia’s Leah Wolff curated the PS1 teen art program, and asked high schoolers to explore the following practices:


Using muslin, stuffing, thread, and yarn students created life-sized sculptures based on the human form. We explored what it means when bodies—one of the oldest and most enduring forms, immortalized in marble and bronze throughout time and across the world—are represented as soft objects, as weird bags of flesh, as things that respond to gravity and time. We examined and challenged ideas of beauty and ‘normalized’ bodies by transforming the human form in a variety of ways. Looking at work by sculptors such as Claes Oldenburg and Louise Bourgeois we sought to represent the human form as a soft, tactile, fleshy thing—not unlike our own bodies.


Students translated objects associated with ‘hardness’ or ‘permanence’ into delicate rice-paper sculptures. Using rice paper, glue, and string, students made forms that use the traditional sculptural logic of armature and skin, translated, however, into materials too soft and delicate to hold themselves up. Students explored pattern making (going from two to three dimensions) and the mechanics and engineering that go into creating a three-dimensional form. The sculptures resemble the skins shed by snakes—hollow, limp, and exquisitely beautiful reminders of absent forms.

Rosemary Meza-Desplas since 2018 has been sewing “human hair drawings” with her own hair against flesh-pink fabric:

If folks know of precedent for this type of work, or artists of yesteryear who worked with flesh or skin as material and texture, I’d love to hear about it.

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