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Selby Ginn , Omnipresent Incarnate , 2013. Detail from head section, wire and woven leather squares.

OMNIPRESENT INCARNATE

Catalogue essay for Selby Ginn
Omnipresent Incarnate,
Personal Structures
Palazzo Bembo, Biennale di Venezia
1 June–24 November 2013

Selby Ginn’s shift in sculptural practice, to translating unwanted animal product into an abstracted simulation of human form, troubles any simple taxonomy. The multiplicity of this being’s source material — leather waste scraps cut into thousands of squares and woven together — gathers the materia prima into a single form by literally weaving the skin of many into one.

The skin (or, more precisely, the ruptured skin) as a tension-holding surface for the vital internal organs (some might say the soul) has been represented in countless artworks: from early carvings of the flayed god; in religious iconography as the pierced flesh of crucifixion; in the arrow-punctured skin of martyrs; in Goya’s nightmarish visions of the cannibalistic Saturn, and especially in his somatic Disasters of War, with its contemporary reinterpretation by the Chapman brothers. Each of these artworks function as visual mnemonics for the fatally vulnerable container of life that is our skin.

As leather is to skin, so skin is related linguistically to cut.[1] So it is perhaps not accidental that we term the end result of a flayed animal the hide,[2] for here the form becomes a second skin, a surfaced protection, an epidermal disguise, a ‘becoming-animal’. Ginn presents us a new and simultaneously ancient being, recreated from the hide of death to represent myriad life.

Through the gathering of animal hides, this heterogeneous being resists its own heritage to reinhabit the human-esque. Its multitudinous colours and textures, created from excoriated hide, present this creature to us as something antediluvian, its reassembled multiplicities of once-was life that lie beyond its outward appearance to become more reflexive of its inward significance.[3]

Ginn’s hybrid being, with its pseudo-gladiatorial nature, reveals the precognition of its own fragility, ready to defend itself and its own nature with a shield made from its own material form. The effect creates a dialogue between the integration of human and nature, where the physical object inhabits this ‘meat space of otherness’.

In its primary materialism, Ginn’s work converts the surface of another, previously living and (more relevantly) feeling creature into a simulation of our own form; a cyclic conversion from organic source to manufactured pelt, from scrap waste to remanufacture, its endpoint a kind of reverse anthropomorphism.

This shift in perception of skin as object, through art and experience, can be seen in a visceral example of the ornamental body posthumously preserved. Geoff Ostling, a retired history teacher, has agreed to donate his body — extensively tattooed by the artist eX de Medici — to be anatomically flayed for eventual display as a once-was living artwork in the National Gallery of Australia collection.

And so we begin to see a kind of inversion of biological skinning practices and notions of impermanence. In one sense, Ginn’s work marks a point in a shifting cycle in how we view ourselves as living beings: the turn in our perception from skin as mere surface and container, to the sensory essence of physical life and love, to the hidden internal aspects of the functional body as machine, even to its potential as a temple for the soul.

The parallel in Selby Ginn’s ‘becoming-animal’ lies in this shift of perception: from understanding other creatures as source materials to be used as our secondary skins, to instead considering all life, our own fragile bodies included, as something made from identical materia prima, temporary and yet always becoming.

NOTES:

[1] James Elkins, ‘The Unimagined Skin: Marble, Lacquer, Animal Hide, Jelly, Ointment’, in Pictures of the Body: Pain & Metamorphosis, Stanford University Press, Palo Alto, CA, 1999, p. 61. Specifically: ‘There is some evidence that one of the original etymological senses of “skin” was “cut,” perhaps because of the association between animal hides and human skin … examples can be cited … with words such as “tear,” “scrape,” “rub,” and “cut” clustering around words for “skin” and “hide”.'

[2] Giles Deleuze and Felix Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus, Brian Massumi (trans.), Bloomsbury, 2004, p. 195.

[3] According to Aristotle: ‘The aim of art is to represent not the outward appearance of things, but their inward significance.’

With notes from a conversation with the artist in March 2013.