“My strength is my vulnerability. It is the key with which I open and close space. It is my map through space.”
“There is no knowledge without the body.”
I was fortunate enough to meet Ernesto back in 2005 in Seattle. He was the juror for a show at Center on Contemporary Art (CoCA), called Meditating America, and selected some of my work for inclusion. I was living in Seattle at the time, so we met when he visited for the opening. We became fast friends and he has remained a huge supporter of my work ever since. Having been a fan of his work for years before even meeting him, I’m honored to have Ernesto in my life, and grateful that he is a maker of beautiful, thoughtful art and performances.
Ernesto does not have dermatographia, but he does have vitiligo, a condition in which the skin loses pigment and patches appear. Like dermatographia, vitiligo is an autoimmune response, and the cause is unknown. It is rarer than dermatographia, affecting only 1% of the population.
Following is a brief interview with Ernesto about skin, art, and creativity. More of his work can be found at www.ernestopujol.org, and his amazing book, Sited Body, Public Visions, can be purchased at http://www.
Ariana Page Russell (APR): Has skin been an inspiration for you in your work? If yes, how so?
Ernesto Pujol (EP): I have to confess that skin has not been an inspiration for my work per se. But I was once interested in pale male bodies aging. Inspired by French Impressionist pairings of women bathers, and informed by feminism, I created a photo-installation series called The Bathers which showed similar male bodies, chronologically 10 years apart, in the intimacy of a small white bathroom, regarding themselves. I turned the tables around; I turned the male gaze on itself.
(APR): Do you have any skin conditions or skin issues?
(EP): I have an inherited skin condition called Vitiligo. Singer Michael Jackson had it. It starts in the joints, often in the fingers. The body loses pigment and you gradually become like an albino. The immune system suddenly treats its pigment-making cells as foreign entities and starts destroying them. There is no cure and 1% of the population has it. It’s most notable the darker you are. The areas without pigment burn and are prone to skin cancer. But mostly, it is unsightly, particularly when on a tanned face.
(APR):What bothers you about your skin (if anything)?
(EP): It has been hard not to be able to walk in the sun, go to the beach, for three decades. It has made me a morning and evening walker, avoiding midday. But even when I avoid the sun, my hands get very spotty. I feel like a zebra. I catch people looking at me like I’m some sort of secret monster.
(APR): What do you love about your skin?
(EP): I have the skin tone of my parents, who managed to look very young well into their old age. I see them on my skin.
(APR): Please tell me a little bit about what inspires you to make art.
(EP): What inspires me to make art are people’s stories, secrets, and needs. At this point, my art-making is not about my story, but about the stories of peoples and places. I am asked to come and perform their story, in silence.
Image courtesy of Ernesto Pujol