Following is the interview published in Emaho Magazine by Raksha Bihani
1. You use the tenderness of your skin to transcend the usual limits of flesh to create art on your skin. What do you aim at, with your art and with treating your skin as canvas?
I like to think of it as giving a voice to skin, making it heard, increasing its visibility—the body too. And with that, helping others feel more comfortable in their own skin as I explore mine.
2. The designs you make on your skin via use of stencils, knitting needles, etc are distinct images. What inspires the type of art you choose to make on your skin?
If skin could speak I think it’d come out in sounds: ohhh, ahhh, mmmm, etc. Skin does have a language, it’s just not one we’re used to understanding. Freckles, wrinkles, redness, even its translucency reveal something. I’ve thought of other ways skin could form language, like in Index where I’ve written some free association text on my legs, thinking of a book with abstract poetry.
In some of the work I’ve also traced patterns from clothing, letting the clothes I wear leave a mark. Or I’ll appropriate other decorative elements like wallpaper designs.
3. Your series ‘Dressing’ is a collage made from photographs of your skin showing shades of sensitivity in reds and pinks made into patterns. What was the process of executing this on your skin and what was the thought behind making ‘clothing’-like patterns all over the body?
The collages start with photographs of skin in different tones of pink and red to mimic a blush. Then I cut the photographs into shapes that form the collage. Those then get scanned into the computer and I make them into temporary tattoos. Everything is done by hand, so I can control how large and bright each tattoo is. I think of skin having its own fashion in the form of freckles, wrinkles, a blush, etc., so I decided to give an extra layer to that with the tattoos—they become an outfit, makeup, or bathing suit.
4. ‘Save Face’ is a very fascinating name for your series where you have self-portraits in shades of red. What was the creative direction you intended to take with this series?
It all started with making a blush into a sign of strength instead of a sign of vulnerability, so I thought of the blush as war paint. Using photographs of flushing skin, I made temporary tattoos into shapes resembling war paint and masks—playing with the idea of persona and what the face can reveal or conceal.
5. The ’Gather Wall’ and ‘Purse’ installations are very striking projects in your ‘Blouse’ series. Please throw some light on their conception and execution.
Temporary tattoos of nipples cover the wall in Gather. They start on my torso in the photograph, then spread out over the gallery. Nipples are sexually charged, but also weird and intimate body parts. I’m taking nipples off the breast/chest and making a pattern with them, making them viral. Same thing with Purse—those are temporary tattoos of pursed lips, and end up looking abstract when removed from the face
6. Your blog, ‘Skin Tome’ which describes itself as a forum for celebrating skin, seems to be forming a community of dermatographics from across the world where you have become an inspirational figure for them! You’re changing perspectives! How do you feel about your self-portraits which you say reflect your “vulnerability”?
Thanks for mentioning the blog! It’s my favorite thing I’m working on right now—I love bringing people together with the same skin condition. There’s so many of us out there, and we’re choosing to reveal this intimate condition. It’s vulnerable, but also empowering to celebrate our uniqueness. Everyone has something they’re ashamed of, and that’s okay. Sometimes what we consider a weakness is actually a great strength.
7. You were quoted as saying, “I am investigating where one surface ends and another begins, the bloom of adornment, and how shifting exteriors reveal as they conceal,” how far have you come with that approach?
I think I’ve come pretty far in this investigation, but it’s something I’ll be doing for a long time. There’s not really an end point, and the details of my exploration shift just as skin does.
8. You’ve done quite crazy things on your skin – like joining freckles on your skin to form constellation-like patterns, writing love notes on your legs using blunt knitting needles, making floral prints, temporary tattoos as in ‘Leather & Lace’ and much more! What can we expect next?
Well, first of all the piece you’re talking about with the legs is Index, and as I said above it’s free association text, not a love note. But that’d be cool! I’m working on more text on skin photographs, temporary tattoos, and even sculptural work. In December 2014 I have a show of new work here in New York at Magnan Metz Gallery, so keep your eyes peeled! Thanks for the interview!
Above image: Husk, archival inkjet print, 40 x 30″, 2012 from my series Husk