With the advent of effective medication many HIV+ people now have undetectable viral-loads, which promise non-transmission, however there still exists one indelible mark – stigma. Continuing the Infinite Surface collaboration with Richard Sawdon Smith, a “micro-drone” is sent deep inside Richard’s HIV+ body, seeking out the virus in vain.
The intersection of the creative practices of Jonathan Armour and Richard Sawdon Smith gives birth to Infinite Surface.
Recurring themes in my work echo Anzieu’s ideas of the “skin-ego” as an interface between inside and outside, between the person and the world, with the skin-ego’s associated functions of containing the psychic apparatus much as the skin contains the body.
Via the projects with Richard, I am challenging my own response to anxieties of rupturing the container and penetrating the protective shell, as well as exploring the individuation resulting from the needle work on the skin.
Further, in the digital body the skin is the container, the shell, thus both the inside and the outside can be explored at the same time, they are one plane. Conceptually this echoes the unique property of the Mobian band – such parallels between the body and the Moebian band are discussed by Lygia Clark in “Nostalgia of the body”.
Lyotard’s description of “Opening the Libidinal Surface” seems to predict a body constituted from digital material: “…spread out the immense membrane of the libidinal body, which is … made from the most heterogeneous textures, bone, sheets to write on, charged atmospheres, swords, glass cases, peoples, grasses, canvasses to paint…” and
“All these zones are joined end to end in a band which has no back to it, a Moebius Band which interests us not because it is closed, but because it is one-sided,…a Moebian skin which rather than being smooth, is on the contrary covered with roughness, corners, creases, cavities… The interminable band with variable geometry (…) has not got two sides, but only one, and therefore is neither exterior or interior.”
Infinite Surface centres on The Anatomical Man photography project in which Richard had part of the circulatory system, veins and arteries, tattooed onto his body. Since being diagnosed HIV+ in 1994, he has visually documented repetitive trips to the clinic for blood tests that screen for levels of ill-health. Playing with layers of the real, memories, fiction and the imagined, the tattoos, a process using needles to puncture the skin like the blood tests, reveal the medical procedures of illness, making visible the behind-the-scenes routines, referencing not only pain and the rupturing of the body’s surface but the repetition and banalities of life under the clinical gaze. Referencing Mary Richards’ (2000) writing about Ron Athey’s performance work, which includes body modification and bloodletting in relation to his tattooed HIV+ body, she implies that for a new subjectivity to become possible, the old must be fragmented, abandoned. In order to survive as a subject in a fractured body, one must destroy the boundaries of one’s own subjectivity not just through pain but by externalizing the internal as well.
Richard’s medical history is written/drawn onto the surface of the skin. A marker of what could be an invisible history, of living with HIV, made visible and available for others to read and reflect as they witness his body. In responding to Akira Mizuta Lippit (1994) when he writes “With each layer that is peeled away there appears to be another to take its place, rather than revealing an essence of the body we merely add to it another layer or fragment”, we end up rejecting the concept of the essence and are suspicious of the infinite surface as every surface can be torn to reveal another surface, another plane of intensity. In doing so we have created a digital version, the film allows the audience to travel internally and externally through the infected body.
Anzieu, D. 1989. The Skin Ego: A Psychoanalytic Approach to Self. Trans. Turner, C. New Haven and London: Yale University Press.
Clark, L. and Bois, Y-A. 1994. Nostalgia of the body. October. 69 (summer 1994), pp. 85-109.
Lyotard, J-F. 2004. Libidinal Economy. Trans. Grant, I.H. London: Continuum.
Lippit, A. M. ‘The X-Ray Files: Alien-ated Bodies in Contemporary Art’. Afterimage, 1994. December, 6-7.
Richards, M. ‘Ron Athey, AIDS and the Politics of Pain’. Body, Space and Technology [Online] 2000. Volume 3, Number 2.