« MAGIC by Miss Guy | Main | Maxime Simoens A/W 2013/14 »

Thursday, 14 March 2013

Hard core, not for the faint hearted...Forget Me Knot rings from skin...


Forget Me Knot from steffi thors on Vimeo.

Here is the event:

  Sruli Recht - Forget Me Knot 1 lo


In a documented one-time surgery-performance, a plastic surgeon removed a 110mm x 10mm strip of skin from the abdomen of Sruli Recht. The resulting leather from the dermis was prepared for use in the ring, Forget Me Knot.


14/03 12:00 - 14/03 21:00

15/03 12:00 - 15/03 18:00

16/03 12:00 - 16/03 17:00

17/03 12:00 - 17/03 17:00


Exhibition Opening Thursday March 14 

20:00 - 21:00

Sruli Recht store, Bergstaðastræti 4, Reykjavik"

13 MARCH 2013

How did the idea to make the ring come about?

From a conservational status, humans are the least endangered animal on the planet after chickens and rats, both of which are only in their numbers as a byproduct of our civilization.  In the studio we use a lot of agricultural by-products, developing materials from waste as well as developing new materials from experimentation with technology, and I had been exploring how to use human by-products.


When we began working on the winter collection, I was researching the Warsaw ghetto uprising and the holocaust and the further I went, the more I began to notice an historical selective memory of past genocides.  The research took me to the Armenian genocide, from which the word was coined, and the Herero and Namaqua genocide with the concentration camps and experimentations that were the blueprint for the Jewish holocaust.  [These were run by the doctor that was the professor of Joseph Mengele.]
I was overwhelmed with the information, as my upbringing in Jewish communities had focussed solely on the Jewish holocaust as a singularity – from their point of view the only time a genocide had occurred.  It seemed so strange that I hadn’t been equally presented the total history of genocide leading up to and after the holocaust – Rwanda, Lithuania, Cambodia… the list is endless.  Genocides are still happening to this day, and as we speak.
This was further compounded by living at the time in a country that was completely ignoring the wholesale killing of the indigenous aboriginal population -
The Black War, 19th century eradication of the Australian Aborigines, and the Stolen Generation, a slow burn attempt to breed out the indigenous population of Australia had happened up until the 1970s.
This brought up the theme of Concentrated, something I had been thinking about incorporating since I was 17, though hadn’t yet found how to apply it and present it.  And as the collection began building, and I researched further, this infiltrated and built through every part of the collection.
A genocide can happen anywhere any time.  Mostly they are state sponsored and in the past have been based around man-power and arms.  Though as we enter further into automation, and apply semi AI sentience to war scenarios, the battle-ground totally changes.  It is entirely possible that with drones and facial recognition software, we will be able to pinpoint and profile individuals within mass metropolis.
So developed the story of the show where we explored the operations of future genocide, and presented this idea that the faceless drones, run by either a government, or possibly a corporation, were in the final throes of a dirty street fight against the last of a resistance movement.  As the show progresses the characters come out, are scanned by the drones, and then set free as the drones see that each individual is not the one they are looking for.  As the finale draws closer, the resistance has given up and brings out their leader, at which times the drones automatically shutdown.
We spent considerable time and resources with the drones, hacking them and rebuilding the software for facial recognition, and programmed them to automatically search the crowd and the models, till the last man standing appeared, at which time they alerted central command and an automatic cease search function kicked in, and they hovered over him pinning him to his location.


The story questions the value of this one man against the army.  Why this one man; what does he represent?  How can one man lead such a powerful fight… or how does the presence of the one man create the energy for resistance and fight in the others?


Do you consider the ring as more than a product? Is it a gesture? If so, what does it signify?


I don't label it art or design - it is a performance that [inspires/triggers/ prompts] an individual response in each viewer.  

It seems that by not labeling it, it makes it harder for people to know how to place it.  It is like people need me to tell them it is an art, so that they can see it in that context, and accept it as a singularity, expression or statement, and value it as a sculpture... or that they need to see it as design so as to adequately criticize it for it's meaning, price, limitation, sensationalism and value as a luxury object.

It has been fascinating to watch the varied responses, from basic news columns, body mod websites, design blogs and over to the random polarized fray of the anonymous web.


It is enjoyable and fascinating to work with new materials, organic or engineered, and often we are trying to create a new application in the studio for a material, re-contextualising it, or developing something completely unused before.

It seems though, no matter what I use, there is critical blowback:  Be it fur, leather, wood, glass, diamonds... every material comes not only with a price, but with a rebuttal/ reaction.

No matter what you do, there is always someone there, with socially adopted morals, holding up a finger ready stop you, point you out, and frown upon it.  And next to them is another person just as delighted, inspired and intrigued.  The audience has a balance.

So from using some of the most obscure and rare materials on the planet, I have come  to use the most readily available, from the least endangered, most destructive and out-of-control animal on the planet - humans.  The message, if I had used another human’s skin, isn’t as clear, and perhaps more sensational than thought-provoking.  Although despite our great numbers, our instincts for self-preservation create a sense of ego-centric individual rarity. By using myself, my own skin, I am looking at rarity of the self.  Rarity, and value.


Value is a most interesting thing. It is quite possibly what came out Pandora’s box.


Of course, what is the value difference between a chicken and a human?  It is the emotional value, versus the economic value.  The human holds greater value on the emotional scale.  But then how is one human more valuable than another, and how is one chicken more valuable than another?

I think often about the fictitious Indiana Jones risking his life to capture a golden statue from a death trap Peruvian cave.  He replaces the statue with a sandbag of the same weight and dimension… but the stone it sits on, indifferent to the emotional value of the object itself, only responsive to its direct physicality, reacts to the minute change and sinks to reveal a trap, setting in train a far more dangerous series of situations for Indy to escape from.

Why has he risked his life for an object? What is the value of this object over another, and why this piece of gold over any other piece of gold?

How do we assign value to objects, individually, culturally, historically, and future value to the finite? How is the fetish created?


What is the symbolic significance of using your skin as material for your work?

The body is very interesting.  Over the last 13 years, I have worked myself hard, and into states beyond exhaustion, into critical and severe levels that border on what is essentially self-harm... destructive, for the sake of constructive.  My body and mind has taken a beating, again and again, like a fighter whose exterior seems fit and fine, but whose internal organs are punished beyond safe levels and whose mental state is strained to its limits… limits that are always shifting, becoming more extreme.  So how is it, that we can accept a person pushing themselves for creative work, and harming themselves internally in such a way, but once we externalize the damage, it becomes an altogether different situation?

When so many augment their bodies for an ideal of beauty, discarding their skin from the knife, how is it different for someone to alter their body, not for beauty but as an act of disfigurement, to make something beautiful out of that skin?  Here in this project, it is a reversed order, and somehow as a result very disturbing.


We can see in recent times many versions of body modification, from self-amputees, though to sub-dermal implants, cornea tattooing but also a new birth of modifications to the body, without beauty as the aim, but alterations for psychological pursuit – biotechnology, art… Places where beauty is not the aim.

It isn’t the same world as the fashion design forum… it isn’t about who is the best at dressing up, or who is the most popular at putting fabric and colour together on skinny people.  It is a new psychological landscape, translated by action and the hacking of the body and the self for the neo-human, not driven by economy and season.


So it creates the question… situation:  How am I me?


Yes, it opens up a lot about the future of body modification for non-aesthetic and non medical reasons – such as the oncoming tech-implants and the incredible research into bio mechanics. But, how does the experience change when you are the material you are using?  Does it create more pressure?  Does working on it make it more of a performance?  And perhaps most importantly, how does my relationship to the material change if it is me?

What does it add, or subtract? How does it change the process, the value, and the immediacy of action?  When working with a material, you are performing, alone or with an audience.  At every point there is the avenue for failure or success. 

When using a piece of yourself, there is an additional tension and pressure for it to work.  Does the anxiety and pressure change the outcome?  This isn’t just buying expensive material, this was a one-time, no-option-for-failure process, with a surgery, and a lengthy healing process. To make it work, we had to learn the tanning process, and successfully refine it into a final piece.

So the value and rarity changes things too.  I didn’t have the option to go buy more of this particular material.

This whole experiment was made to confront me during the process and to gauge how my relationship to it shifted, before, during and after.

Our relationship to objects is just so fascinating.  And yet, so many items are disposable.  Though I am left with a scar, which is permanence. 


I am left with the permanence of the action - the scar is the reminder.  Is what remains more valuable than what is taken away?  With sculpting clay, wood or stone, what you take away is the trash, and what is left is the product of the artist.  So here, what is the product of the action: the scar, or the ring?  The initial performance, or the processes and objects afterward?

This is the most interesting part of it all – what is left.  Normally in cosmetic surgery, the negative space is the value, and the positive space, the discarded skin, is the waste.  So here the situation is inverted – the negative space, left on me, is the waste, and the skin, un-discarded, is the value.  By giving attention to the waste you are attributing

value, changing the intellectual and emotional context of the object.

Then by further assigning an economic value to the final piece, the audience relationship becomes interesting, as up until this point it was simply some object, but it is now framed by permanence, rarity and value, which push the emotional scale of the individual to respond to the situation.

Why does money change people’s understanding of things and why does it make us so emotional?

It is a situation design - creating circumstances in which the audience is confronted with their sense of being, when presented with the atypical.


As you can read, this project unanswered a long list of questions for me about how we and I understand our relationship to objects through currency, rarity, language and explanation... or no explanation.


How did you feel going into the surgery? (Was it in Iceland?)


I have a phobia of needles and anything medical.  Undergoing the procedure, getting on the table, going to the surgery, planning the project – it was exciting but daunting.  It felt like somehow the decision to do it had been made, and I was just playing out the role up to the moment where it would happen.


The camera crew with me were asking a lot of questions for the documentation, hoping for a real time commentary of what I was feeling and experiencing, making it difficult to get into the performance state and prepare for the surgery. 

This was a physical pursuit as much as an intellectual exercise - demanding, singular, and the real experience of becoming a material, an object.


I could do this all over again, but won’t, for the sake of the value of the ring. ,The existence of the ring forces me too to play into this behavior.


How long did it take you to heal?

It has not yet completely healed.  There is a very large scar.

(Optional/Rhetorical) Are you fucking crazy? [please leave the optional rhetorical part in]

Probably not.



Posted by diane pernet at 04:57 PM | Permalink


TrackBack URL for this entry:

Listed below are links to weblogs that reference Hard core, not for the faint hearted...Forget Me Knot rings from skin...:


Excellent interview. A most appropriate counterpoise to the abundance of sensationalist reactions to the ring found online. Thank you!

Posted by: Michael K | Mar 15, 2013 3:25:25 PM

Post a comment