“Ruptured Envelopes, Double Shells” explores the presence and meaning of skin in art of the early twenty-first-century. Millennial art has engaged skin through an intriguing selection of media, from animal hides to latex and silicon. The installations discussed in this paper experiment with biological and artificial skins, transformed into fetishized shells and brought to bear on contemporary sociocultural anxieties. The paper draws on Didier Anzieu’s Skin-Ego theory as a useful analytical framework, allowing discussion of both psychological and sociocultural aspects of skin. Works by Ana Álvarez-Errecalde, Nandipha Mntambo, Jessica Harrison, Wu Tien-chang, Michel Platnic, Pamela Rosenkranz, and Penny Siopis are discussed under the categories of “double shells,” “skin fetishes,” and “de-structured skins.” Analysis proceeds along two critical paths. Thus, a historically-specific political perspective is coupled with a phenomenological reflection on skin’s appeal to the haptic sensibility of our bodily borders. Investigating the turbulence of global mobility through the trope of skin, the paper reflects on subjects’ sense of “skinlessness” in an age when Otherness is ubiquitous, whether it is political, geographic, ethnic, or racially specific. At the same time, the growing phenomenological discourse on embodied aesthetics invites reflection upon sensory aspects of skin-based art, in relation to the lived experience of bodily envelopes. Assuming a synergy between these complementary critical paths, the paper offers close analysis of seven artists’ skin-related installations and videos, with particular attention to how skin comes to matter in an age of global turbulence.
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