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It’s that time again, when I try to clear the backlog of art posts.  This is perhaps not the best time to do this since I’m at work and the photos I took of Andrea Zapp’s show, Third Skin, are at home, but — contrary to what the Rolling Stones claimed — time is never on my side. When I have the photos, I’m swamped with other nonsense. When I have the time, I don’t have the photos. Technically, at this point, I have neither. My intellectual presence is required elsewhere, but having spent three months on the job, I’ve realised that neither my intellect nor my presence actually make much of a difference. So, I’m going to quickly write about Third Skin and thus reduce the backlog. I’ll update the post with photos … later.

Third Skin

All of us have regular skin (check) and then there are clothes, which are like second skin (check). So what’s this third skin? Quite honestly, I’m not sure. At a very basic level, Zapp showed a series of very pretty silk dresses, which had prints that were photographs she had taken in different parts of the world. Technically, that’s still second skin. Zapp’s contention is that media — particularly the internet and technology that make use of it — is today an extension of the self. It’s a part of one’s identity and consequently digital culture is our third skin. (At least I think that’s what was going on.)

The dresses that Zapp has made — yes, she is the one that made them apparently. Not a handy neighbourhood tailor known as Masterji — articulate this. Our photos, transcribed chats on Gmail or Skype, emails, GPS devices etc. contribute as much to constructing our sense of self as physical factors like the city to which you belong. Cut in exactly the same way and made of the same material, there’s something almost clone-like about them. The fact that they’re worn by faceless, stick-figure mannequins doesn’t help. The mannequins also have nuts and bolts at their joints and multi-coloured wheels on their heads, as though they would actually whirr if the mannequins thought. The inspiration may be Metropolis, but the effect is more steampunk. Zapp personalises the dresses by printing photographs she’s taken in different parts of the world on them. It’s a strange contradiction that these dresses that look like they’re literally cut from the same cloth are actually unique and personal because of those photographs.

This is how Zapp’s work was displayed at The SIGGRAPH 2011 Art Gallery: Tracing Home. 

Some of Zapp’s dresses, sorry, “textile media sculptures” were worn by mannequins. Some were on hangers. One was laid on the bad with artful casualness. They were eerily similar to one another and yet distinct. What’s interesting about these works is that they are perfectly functional — Zapp wears the dresses herself from time to time. So when she does, she’s actually wearing a bit of her past fashioned into a dress and so a past narrative is spliced with the present. In the photographs are also  stories of architecture, like in the contrast between the “textile media sculptures” made of photographs of European towns and the ones that show old Indian towns like Ahmedabad. Reality is fragmented and/or edited, architecture is modified to suit the human shape.

There’s a uniform-quality to the dresses. What distinguishes each one from the other are the photographs and the way the images spread over the fabric, which made me think very long and hard about identity being signified by something as superficial as its  surface. I kept remembering the Population Registration Act in South Africa during the apartheid era, which identified people by their skin colour, the characteristics of their hair, where they lived among other things. There was a list of criteria and depending on these superficial details, your place in society was fixed. Of course, Zapp isn’t suggesting society be restructured or referencing apartheid in her works, but the idea of skin — whether digital, metaphorical or actual — being identification is a little creepy for me.

Where Third Skin really suffered was in terms of display. If you see this picture on Zapp’s webpage, the shadows add a little drama as does the arrangement of the mannequins. None of this happened in Mumbai where the lighting was just flat. Also, the show  barely occupied the tiny space of The Loft. The dresses mostly seemed to retreat from the brightly-lit central area. You didn’t encounter the art as much as seek it. This has worked in a few of The Loft’s previous shows, but it didn’t in this one.

And now I’m going to go home.

EDITED: Good thing I wrote up this post. I can’t find my photos. (Eep.) I’ve bunged in a photo I did find through Google.

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