Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Hanging On

It is often as though the skin were dramatising the primary significance of the word 'bear'. In much sadomasochistic practice and imagery, there is an obsessive interplay between the attack on shape carried out through the use of weights, or objects hung from the skin in order to distress and distort its contours, and the display of the skin's reassuring capacity to support weight. The skin bears weight as its owner bears suffering. In one ritual practiced by masochistic performance artist Bob Flanagan, a third meaning was enacted: he hung plastic babies from hooks in his skin, as a way of demonstrating the enforced bearing of children (1993: 61). Hanging objects from one's skin seems to reduce one's skin to an object, merely fleshly stuff to be played with at will and without mercy. But to hang yourself from your skin, or, as we might say, in a small but prepositional shift, by your skin, as practised, for example, by the self-modifying performance artist Stelarc, who hung himself high in the air through hooks in his skin, is to reduce yourself to the condition of object, or mere mass or weight. The hung person is of course reduced to an object, a mere carcass. They are wholly vulnerable and available. But they are also supported, borne up by the mortification they elect to have to bear. Suspension gives a curious compensatory sense of protection. Language gives us another literalisation here; of the person in the appalling condition, it must be said that they literally depend on their own skin.

— Steven Connor, ‘Mortification’ (2001: 44)

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