Skin Room

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About the Work

The Skin Room performance took place from January 13-15, 2006, in the Kunstverein in Heidelberg, Germany.

As a soloist intoned a siren-like song, composed by Sidney Corbett, and whose text is a poem by Leonardo da Vinci in which the Renaissance master gives voice to the fear of the unknown, I solemnly entered the exhibition space.

Wearing a sleeveless white long wedding gown carrying the bloodied lifeless carcass of a slaughtered pig to a stainless steel butcher’s table, where I skinned it, scrubbed its hide on a washboard, and then cut it into perfect rectangular sections using a template. I methodically affixed the panels of skin to the walls, floor, and ceiling of a small room I had laid out and which I later assembled in the center of the space.

The first human dwellings were caves, their floors covered with the fur of animals; later, tents were made of animal skin, and we have continued throughout history to surround ourselves with this material to which we clearly feel an intimate connection, even when there would have been obvious alternatives, as in baroque wall coverings or the leather and fur clothing that has been preferred for many centuries. We certainly do not find it strange or repulsive when we see the customs of our forebears documented in books or museums, and even today, still surrounded as we are with products perhaps less obviously created from the skin of dead animals, we hardly give the matter a thought.

Viewers of the Skin Room were required to remove their shoes and socks before entering. The room itself was only minimally illuminated through the agency of a single low-wattage light-bulb.

My intention in creating the Skin Room was to put my audience again in direct and unmistakeable contact with one of the basic materials on which we have built civilization and which we have progressively hidden from view over the years through constantly refined techniques of tanning, texturing, and coloring. My hope was that the discomfitting resemblance of pig skin to human skin, felt in the intimate confines of the Skin Room, would engender insistent sensations of similarity and unavoidable reflections on the industrialized, socially invisible, and largely unconsidered slaughter of animals