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Sheer Skin[2]

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  • 7/28/2019 Sheer Skin[2]


    "OOKSNS, Th e MUSEUM UNDER CONSTRUCTION book ser iesWe are building a Museum of Mode rh Art in a ~ s a wWe are writing a new history of ar t





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    Ernst van Alphan is p r o f ~ s s o r oJLiterary Studies at ~ e i d . e n ~ n l v e r s l t y , t ' h ~Netherlands, His p u b l l ~ a t l O n s m c l ~ d e FranclsBacon and the Loss o(SeffCReaktlOn ~ o o k s ,1992) Caught ByHistory: H%callstEffects In Con-tempdrary Art, Literature, and Theory (S,ta nfordUniversity Press, 1 9 9 7 ) , A r m a l J ( ! o : ~ h a p m g Mem-ory(NAi publishers, 2000),Artm How, Con-temporary Images Shape Thought (Un ! v e r s ~ t y ofCh iC81\O press. 2005), and The RhetOriC ofSmcer-ity (edited, S t ~ n f o r d University Press, 1998).




    I n he r work from the. early 19608, the skin of Al in a Szapocznikow'ssculptures becomes more and more opaque. This is perhaps astra nge observation, fpr it j'g also j n those yea rs that she begi ns to usepolyester resin for making sculptures. From a formalist point of viewthis renders her work more and more translucent, When I say opaque"I mean thatthe outward appearance' ofhersculpt,ures relates less andless to an inner structure. Whereas in her earlier work from the-1950s,the outward 'appearance ofthe human figures arises from the illusionofa skeletal $ubstr,ucttire that supports the poses and gestu res of hebodies, such a supporting and explanatory relationship between interstructure and outer appe'arance dissolves in the 1960s. We aremore and 'more left.with a,ppearances,that lack interiority, or withappearances whose interiority is forcefully and artificially heldtogether (as in the'mummies).Rosalind Krauss has described a similar transition inthe work of Rod in. Neoc,lassical sculpture consists of he revelation ator on the skin of an inner system, a system that may be skeletal in thebodily sense or expressive in the psychological sense. The inner str'uctures or inner feelings are what -explains and motivates what th esculpted skin and the sculptural skin look like. In Rodin's work, however, this inner/outer relationship is no longer at work. To illuminatethe differ,ence, Krauss compares Rodin's sculpture with art nouveau

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    design in architecture and th e applied arts. In th e inkpots and candlesticks-by Victor H o ~ t a or Henry van de Ve/de, furniture by HectorCui"mard, orthe architecture ofGaudi, we encounter a style of.designwh ich is at all c O r i c e r t l ~ d with th e internal structure of an object.1-As R.osalrnd Krauss n o t ~ s , "Generally speaking, art nouveau presentsvolume with an undifferentiafed sense of interior, concentratinginstead on it s surface."2 Th"is means that the surface of ar t nouveauobjects, bu t also that of sculptures by Radin and Rosso, gJves rise toth e illus"ion of a formative process carried ou t externally. There is nolonger a relationship between outward appearance andinternal structure, but rather between outward appearance and external forces orinfluences. The design suggests that we are looking at something that. was shaped by th e erosion of water over rock, or byth e tracks of waves on sand, or by the.ravages of wind;in short, by what We think of as the passage of natura Iforces over th e surface.of matter. Shaping those

    substan,ces from th e outside, these forces ac t with noregardt.o th e intrinsic stru-cture of he mate'rial onwhich they wo'rk. 3The designofartnouveau objects rela-tes polemicallyto th e backgroundof he neoclassical tradition in which th e s,urface and the appearance?fthe s c u l ~ t u r e are a direct expression of a previous m ~ a n i n g , anInner experience or structure. For example, th e exper.ience of pain isexpressed in a specific physiognomically, recognizable appearance ofth e body. Rage or aggression is translated into yet another outwardappearance, another gesture, or physiognomic expression.The absence ofa convincing relationship between internal structure and outward appearance in the sculpture of Rosso and~ o d i n can be p'erceived as another k,ind ofexpressi6n: th e surface, thatIS, th e texture and appearance of heir sculptures, gives expression toth e process offormatioil andproduction. The hand o f ~ h e sculptor ismore evident on th e surface than is th e internal structure.


    Adegree f ~ u a n c e } s r e ~ u i r e d here. In son;e. artnouveau objects, likethose ofEm lie Galle) an Internal structure IS In fact expressed in a veryemphatic and extrt;me manner, na!l;1ely in the form of muscles, tendonsor stems. Here the !dea that an object constitutes an orga nic whole is no taba ndoned, but rather accentuated in this extreme form. Precisely byway oftheir ~ t r e m e n e s s (literalness) these exam pies of art n(Jllveallc o n f i ~ m the vIew that he relationship between interior space and outerform IS a key aspect of artnouve_uu design or is even its problematicfocus.Rosalind E. Krauss, "Narrative Time: the Question of he G(1tesofHelf"inPassagesinModernSculptllreCcambridge,Mass.: MIT Press 1977) p.33.Ibid. - , . "


    This is th e case with Alina S z a p o c z - ' ~nikow's sculptures from th e 19605 on, however. H ""-;:,sculptures give thematic emphasis to the r e l a t i o n s h i p ~between internal structure and, outward a p p e a r a n c e " , : : ) ~ , ~ . ' ~ ,This occurs in two ways. On th e one hand, this r e l a t i o n R ~ (shi'p is ostentatiously ignored, as is often th e caseart nouveau. Occasionally th e surface of th ethose years is, indeed, reminiscent ofartnouv"au,movement, th e commotion, and th e chaevoked by th e organic surface of her " n ' ' ' ~ ; o osuggest natural, external forces such as those of"",,. ,"and wi nd, One exa m pie is Biological Sculpture (1963),smootnness of the swellings ,seems to be th e resul

    p r o c e s s e ~ ,or labor coming from th e outsioe,water, or even simply th e hand of th e sculptor, con,siclered-polemically-as an outside force.' The swelllseem less the,result of an inner tension or force.swelling in PINK TORSO A (1966-G7l is a growth frominside, a kind oftumor, when we view it, as th e title sug-gests, realistically as a torso. But th e human formtorso is not the first thing that strikes th e eye. It IS'rather' the contrast between th e smoothness ofswelling and th e belabored surface of th e restvolume that stands out. In th e belabored surfacecan se e th e traces of he chisel, th e iool in th e a rtlst'S!t ,':cc.;;hand. Different treatments of th e sculptural skinhere contrasted. The same can be said of he lower,'marble part f S E L F ~ P O R T R A I T I B(1966),. Following th etitle, th e two smooth swellings must be breasts. Butsuch a figura! reading is at th e same time challenged byth e central location of he two swell i ngs. Once th is 10caR GIP. 23tion attracts the eye,the image of sculpted skin exchanged for aneye to the different treatments of he sculptural.skln. We se e th e c ~ r ewith which th e skin has been smoothed and th e violentgestures whichhave created the more rough surface. In both caset th e sculptural skincannot be explained by inner structure or feeling, bu t by a working Ofth e skin from th e outside. .. The notion of skin, sculptural as well as sculptedJsforegrouilded in yet other ways in-two sculptures froril1966 and 1967.In BOUQUET 11 C(19Se) and in W e i ~ h t l e s s n e s s [Homage ~ o m a r o v ] ( 1 9 6 7 ) , ahuman figure has been wrapped.rn layers of cloth as If It were a mummy.

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    An artificial skin has been added to the human skin. Inthis case the outer experience is completely motivatedby the inner structure it cover's, the human body. Atsame ti.me this relation between inner structureo ~ t . e r appe,arance is the opposite oforg,anic. Themlficatlon IS an a d d ~ d skin which im risons the iform artificially and, it seems, viol'e r All innering and expression are,imprisonNESS 0(1967>, and in Bouquet 11 a m u l t i p i i " ~ ~ E ; ; ; ~ ; n ~ ~ ~mouths s e e ~ s to be intimately ~ l a t e d 'to theIng off, th e lopping and cutting off, of the restbody. The bouquet of mouths and the uncovered Orea,st,st a nd in s h a ~ p c o n ~ r a s t to constricted body. It is

    c o n ~ r a s t whIch rarses th e Issue of expression of innerfeelIngs and structures and its impossibility., The few works of Alina Szapocznikow discussed so farma ke It clear that the sculptural skin of her works does not fu nction as,a m,ediator ?f,inner structu're or inner feeling. At the same time! thenotion o ~ s k l n ,Is,not onlyforegr,ounded as a formal aspect of sculptureas a medlumj I,t IS also a recurring and consistent thematic and n a r r a ~tive feature r a i ~ i n g issues at th e level of representation, To better

    ~ n d e r s t a n d the,lmportance ofthesculptural skin and ofsculpted skinIn her ,work, I will first conside_r the different functions of skin, f c o n ~tend thatSzapocznikow's works i'mply a notion of skin that differs fromthe r ~ i n a r y one, as it is grounded, in a phenomenological and p s y c h o ~analytical view ofskln J although not limited to such, a view,, ~ r e n c h psychoanalyst DidierAnzieu explains this viewinhiS book The Skin Eg?: A Psychoanalytic Appraach to The Self(1989). Accord'Ing to Anzleu ~ k l n serves the purposes of containment, protection,and communication:

    The primary function of he skin is as the sac wh'ichc o n t a i ~ s and retains inside itthe goodness and

    f u l l n ~ s s ,accumulating there through feeding, care; thebathing In words, Its second function is-as theinterface which ma'rks the boundary with the outside'and keeps that outside outi it is th e barrier whichprotects against penetratio'n by th e aggression and

    g r ~ e d e m ~ n a t i n g from others, whether people orobjects. Finally, the third function-which th e skinshares . / i ' ~ h th e m.outh and which it performs at leastas often-Is as a site and a primary means of


    communication with others, of establishing signifyingrelations; it is moreover; an "ir'scribing-surface"forth e marks left by those others,4Anzieu is not spe_Bking of he physical properties of he skin, howev?r,but of he metaphoric qualities offlesh, His conceptof"skin ego" a r t l c ~ulates this,beautifully, By "skin ego," Anzieu explains,

    f mean a men tal ,image of which the Eg'o of he childmakes use during the early phases of its developmentto represent itselfa-s an Ego containing psychiccontents, on the basis of its experience of he surfaceof he body,; .The skin's functions of containment, protection, and communicatIOn

    are th e resl,Jlt ofa dual process ofint,eriorization.Two spatial aspects of the skin need to be internalized.Fir'stofall the interface between the bodies of he child and the m o t h ~eri ng f i g u ~ e (what Anzieu call s th e "psych ic envelope") is internalized,and second the mothering environment itselfwi th air its verbal! visual,and e m o t i o ~ a l properties, Anzieu articulates this concept of skin .egoand this dual interface by means of the somewhat odd w o r d - c o m b t n a ~tion "the goodness and fullness accumulating h e ~ e through feeding,care, th e bathing in words,"Let me insist thatthis view ofa psychoanalyst cannot beunproble'mati,cally b r ~ u g h t bear on works of art, But to the e x t e ~ tthat it represents a p h l l o s o p ~ l c a l conceptIOn as, well, as that odd ? d l ~tion "hathing in words" partIcularly. suggests) It can be brought Intodialogue with art. 1t is especially the skin's dual possibility of es tablishing barriers and filtering exchanges that o n s t i ~ u t e s ~ h i s c o n c ~ p tion; '1 contend that Szapocznikow's work engages In a dialogue Withthis rich conception of skin. The artist's work "on the skin" seems tochallenge th e skin's functions of containment and p r o t e c t . i o n , l n s ~ e a d ,her skins are multivalent "discussions," Her,works function as Visualpuns that raise numerous issues oflife),touch! sensation: asequence, she also challenges the ordinary notion of he skin s m e t a ~phorical significan'ce eg? 1 ~ p o r t a n t l y , h?r works u.tterly lack thewholeness such a meaning Implies, Thus! while endof'slng, orabs?rbing, Anzieu's extension of he skin into th e e ~ v i t ' o n m e n : , she ~ c l l n e sthe totalizing wholeness that ,retreats back Into the skm as boundaryofthe human individual.4 DidierAnzieu, rhB Skin Ego: A Psychoanalytic Approach to thflSfllf, trans. ChrisTurner, New Haven: Yale University Press, 1989, p.40.Ibid,

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    Most noticeably, ifisstrikingthatthefirst "function Anzieu ascribes to the' skin ,is incre-asinglyabsent in Szapocznikow's work. Her sGulpted skins andsculptural skin are not like the- "sac which contains andretains inside it th e g o o d n e ~ s and fullness aCleulmullal;-ing there through feeding, care, the bathing in words.HerworkTHE ~ A C H E L O R ' S ASHTRAY I (1972.) is a goodexample of how th e skin-sac fails 1n containing andretaining inside. It is an example that.can be read as anallegory of how, in which sense, skin, sculpted as well assculptural, fails its primary function. This container isopen at the top and th e cigarette stubs flow overedge. The usual openings, the. mouths, are closed, 'th e cranium is lifted an d open. This container does notretain within bu t is an open hole that can, be filled fromwithout. .

    Furthermore, th e skin's secondary function is of littlerelevance 'in Szapocznikow's work. Skin in her. work is no "interfacewhich marks th e boundary with th e outside and keeps that outsideout"j it is not "a barrier which protects against penetration by th ea g ~ , r e s s i o n and ,greed emanating from others, whether people orobjects." An,example ofth,isfailure that is again allegorical is Mad WMteFiancee (1971). The allegorical narrative suggested by this sc'ulptureshows th e phallus as e n o r m o ~ s and red, announcing its penetration. of the female body. She looks ifshe were faintingj whether ou t of.-sheer pleasure or of fright remains ambiguous. The issue is,how,the .penetration of he body is explicitly and provocativelyforegrounded.Anqther example is S C U L P T U R E ~ L A M P VI 1"(1970), where th e momentof penetration is represented in th e act. Moreover, many of her worksshow fragments of he body, especially mouths. These are multiplied.The proliferation of hese bodily fragments seems to demonstrate th eutter openness ofthe body an d th e failure of he skin to fuhction as abou'naarywith the outside. .

    :Containment and protection-are radically underminedby Szapocznikow's treatment of th e sculptura.l and sculpted skin.Instead, in Szapocznikow's work, skin is presented as highly communicative. Th e third function of skin Anzieu distinguishes seems to beall-pervasive in that work. Let me reiterate his formulation of his function: "the third function-which the skin shares wfth th e mouth andwhich it performs at least as often-is as a site and a p r i m ~ r y means ofcommunication with others, ofestabliSihing signifying relations; it is


    moreover, an 'inscribing surface' for th e marks leftthose others." Anzieu's definition of communication ipeculiar, because although it compares this functionskin with th e mouth 'and no t with th e ear, it explainsas an inscribing surface fo r th e marks left byothers. Communication is not seen as an exchange ba"one-way process initiated by 'others from th e outsi

    S ~ a p o c z n i k o w ' s works op.en' outworld. The skin of he r works does not mark a bourather, it is a zone of contact where spaces and'can entangle. In Anzieu's terms this can be unde",toodas "the pommon-skin fantasy." Anzieu .fantasy of human relationships as problematic, be,eallseit takes place no t betweel} autonomous individualsas mutual symbiotic dependency. Szapocznikow enactsth e common-skin fantasy as ambivalent, 'as attractive ,and seductive,as well as problematic because' it is so torturOU$. In th e following discussion of other works I will describe what th e ambivalences in thisfantasyof"a skin we sharE;!" are, and in what sense this fantasy is a formof idealization. 'A recurrent motif in Szapocznikow's work is,the belly.Presented ,as bodily fragment, these bellies are not tight or swollen,bu t consistently folded. The.skin of th e belly has folds by means ofwhich it creates an alternative ihner-outer structu re. The in nar spacesuggested is not behind th e outer skin. There is only skin, an d th e skincreates it s own inner spaces by means offolds. The space within th efold 'IS an i"nner space, bu t in factlt is.inner and outer atthe same time.There is interiority, but that interiority is located not behind th e skin,bu t on its surfacej,it is a kind of "virtual" interiority. The distinctionbetween inner and outer does no t really hold here, becau'se it is,both.Skin touches skin, bu t that skin is no t someone e l s e ~ s skin. The sharing of skin that takes place here is like touching one's own skin. Thefolded belly is like an auto-erotogenic zone. Butthe open spaceswithinth e folds are not really open th e way mouths can be, or vaginas. Theyare impenetrable inner spaces. When opened up, or penetrated, thefold dissolves and inner space transforms into outer space, as inBELLY CUSHIONS 0(1968) an d BIC BELLIES H{1968). Here th e fantasy ofa common skin is realized within the subject, no t in relation to othersubjects. " .The folded c belly is and is no t like th e other recurrentmotifs in ~ z a p o c z ' n i k o w ' s sculptures, the mouths. They are the same

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    insofar as they are both pieces offolded skin. And acc:or

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