Save your skin

This soft sculpture of a lifeboat (canot de sauvetage) was sewn directly from printed vinyl recycled from the Photoreceptors public art installation. The heavily zoomed digital images depict the skin around human eyelids. The thick printed tarpaulin was cut up by hand, following the pattern of an existing inflatable raft, and sewn with industrial sewing machines in a factory in Aurec-sur-Loire, France. Spare parts in wood and rubber from an actual Zodiac inflatable boat were glued and fastened to the soft sculpture. The images of human flesh from the original photographs are recomposed in what is typically an industrially produced form, evoking travel, passage, and migration.

In recent years, the lifeboat has become a symbol of the heroic rescue of migrants to Europe from North Africa and the Middle East. At the same time many people that risk their lives to cross into the European Union are lost at sea, their lifeless bodies washing up on the shores of our privileged homelands.

Sewing a lifeboat out of a material that physically represents human bodies is a way to evoke the horror and desperation of those who cross. While the work literally depicts skin, it brings to mind the écorché study exercise in which figures are drawn without skin to show the muscles of the body, in order to improve an artist’s understanding of human anatomy. The work asks how our knowledge of the body can improve if we give our attention to actual bodies, in crisis.

In the work, we can imagine those affected by the danger of passage by sea, literally flayed. Their skin is then used to produce a simulacrum of a boat that can save them. In a catch-22, to be saved, the migrants in question need to lose their skin. But if they lose their skin, they cannot be saved.

Sauver sa peau, 2020, Soft Sculpture. Images numériques de la peau humaine imprimées sur bâche en vinyle découpées et cousues ensemble. Poignées de bateau en caoutchouc. Panneau en bois a l’arrière du bateau. Rembourrage en mousse. Pièce unique.