bioephemera

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Blooms, Efflorescence, and Other Dermatological Embellishments: Cystic Acne, Back
Lauren Kalman, 2009

Metalsmith and mixed-media artist Lauren Kalman explores the nexus of body, adornment, and disease in her remarkable series “Blooms, Efflorescence, and Other Dermatological Embellishments”. Yes, those faux-diseases are actually piercing the skin – but only temporarily: they’re gold acupuncture wires modified into jewelry by the artist. The temporary/permanent nature of the piercings echoes the temporary visibility of the diseases she depicts, like syphilis and herpes, which eventually clear from the skin, but still remain dormant within the body.

Kalman’s work asks us to reconsider how much of our instinctive revulsion for diseased bodies comes from disgust for their appearance, versus a fear of the underlying pathogens. Why is a rash of glistening blood-red stones set in gold almost attractive, when a glistening sore is so grotesque? Why aren’t Kalman’s works, like a lovely pair of gemstone earrings, unambiguously attractive – or do you think they are? And what effect does the choice of subject – a young, white, clear-skinned model – have on the viewer?

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“Blooms, Efflorescence, and Other Dermatological Embellishments”: Nevus Comedonicus
Lauren Kalman, 2009

The curator of Anatomy in the Gallery suggests,

Kalman’s photographs document these jeweled lesions and sores–most of which are more prevalent among AIDS patients–in situ on the body of a young, white woman, the stereotypical imaged body of consumer culture and one less often associated with the AIDS virus. . . Although her photographs retain some shock value in their depiction of pierced flesh, they also advertise these perverse piercings as jewelry, transforming them back into objects of desire connected to beauty, status, and wealth through their placement in relation to the romanticized ideal body, thereby dramatizing the corrupt and corrosive nature of consumer culture.

To those important themes, I’d also add a gender theme – that is, women routinely pierce, starve, shave, paint and dye their bodies to be more attractive. (Kalman herself sports a nose piercing). If taken too far, is this obsessive alteration in the name of fashion analogous to a disease? Why do we think artificially altered bodies are more beautiful than natural ones? (I know many of my readers aver that they find natural bodies more attractive: kudos to you. Unfortunately, society as a whole doesn’t seem so enlightened).

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“Blooms, Efflorescence, and Other Dermatological Embellishments”: Wart
Lauren Kalman, 2009

In an earlier series, “Hard Wear”, Kalman created less literal embellishments – but ones that nevertheless seem like an intrusion or imposition on the body. Golden crusts on the lips, tongue, and gums might evoke the blistered mouth of a thirsty drought victim, or a carpet of semi-permanent cold sores – or a mouthful of solid gold veneers on a wealthy, blinged-out hip-hop artist. Gross, or gorgeous, or. . . Lady Gaga?

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“Hard Wear”: Lip adornment
Lauren Kalman, 2006

Kalman’s work provides incredibly rich space for interpretation and thought about health, beauty, and the culture of bodily modification.

Kalman’s work is showing through May 21 as part of Anatomy in the Gallery, an ongoing series at the International Museum of Surgical Science in Chicago. I can’t recommend this series highly enough for the wonderful medicine and science-inspired artists they find.

Comments

  1. #1 Comrade PhysioProf
    March 22, 2010

    That shit is fucking freaky! I like!

  2. #2 Erin
    March 22, 2010

    I’m so happy you’re back from blogcation :-)

  3. #3 Esmeralda M Rupp-Spangle
    March 22, 2010

    Those are both beautiful and repulsive. The sensations those photographs produce are dueling in me, and I can’t tell whether I’m awed or nauseated or both.

    Awesome.

  4. #4 Jessica Palmer
    March 22, 2010

    That’s actually the best litmus test for a BioE reader yet, Esmeralda!

    “Do you find this post both beautiful and repulsive, amazing and nauseating, and you think that’s AWESOME? Then you, too, may be a BioE reader!” :D

  5. #5 Dave Mosher
    March 22, 2010

    The last pic is wracking my brain a bit…

    Great post.

  6. #6 Isabel
    March 22, 2010

    “rash of glistening blood-red stones set in gold almost attractive, when a glistening sore is so grotesque”

    They are both disgusting.

    “That’s actually the best litmus test for a BioE reader yet, Esmeralda! ”

    I guess I failed your litmus test, as no feelings of awe or amazement were elicited and I don’t find the images beautiful at all.

    I am always repelled by both the idea and the representation of sharp shiny metal things invading living flesh.

  7. #7 Jessica Palmer
    March 22, 2010

    So you don’t have earrings, Isabel?

  8. #8 Isabel
    March 22, 2010

    My ears were pierced at one time. But even that creeped me out. I guess I have a bit of a needle phobia.

    I didn’t mean that to sound judgmental. I’m certainly fascinated by disease and deformities and all kinds of oddities. But piercing and cutting are repellent to me, as are implanting of computer chips under the skin and performance artists who hang from hooks the like. I can’t even look at the images, let alone find them fascinating. I don’t even want to think about those things!

  9. #9 Jessica Palmer
    March 22, 2010

    It sounds like you’d better stay away from piercing-themed posts then – fortunately they’re pretty unusual. :) (Also, stay away from acupuncture!) I have a needle phobia myself, so I can relate a little, but mine sounds much narrower than yours (only certain types of needles). Nevertheless, I have passed out from it before, and I wouldn’t want that to happen to you!

    Oh, and re “performance artists who hang from hooks the like,”

    I can promise i will never blog that. Euw!

  10. #10 Catharine
    March 22, 2010

    That is out there. I read recently that you can (after your Brazilian wax) have your vagina [sic] bejeweled — but I think they’re using glue, not needles. It’s called vagazzled or vabazzled or something. What bothers me is that nobody seems to know the difference between the vagina and the pubic area (or the place that was formerly known as the pubic hair).

  11. #11 Esmeralda M Rupp-Spangle
    March 22, 2010

    I am not extensively ornamented myself, nor do I have any real interest in being so; however, I live in a city (portland, or) where facial/ neck tattoos and piercings are remarkably common, and perhaps I’m just biased because I’m so overexposed— I think they’re lovely. I regard the human body as an excellent canvas, and if you are willing to undergo to expense and pain of permanent procedures, then rock-the-hell-on.
    I really enjoy looking at people who are covered in adornments, even if I myself don’t think they’re flattering- I still love them. It’s so much more intersting than streets full of suits and ties- we have a crowd of flamigoes that inhabit this city, and I couldn’t be happier about it.

    I think if you can say “that’s not something I would do; but WOW! I admire that on some unexplainable level”- then you can really appreciate stuff like this.

    And boy, do I!

    It’s the likeness to a disease or deformity that I find so discomforting- but it’s done with this lovely, elegant media (jewels, gold)

    It reminds me a little of the post you made a looooooooong time ago about cockroaches who were given gold and precious stones to make cocoons out of. The contrast of “ick disease!” and “ooh, pretty!”

    I just…. I love your blog so much.
    *gush*

  12. #12 Isabel
    March 22, 2010

    “I can promise i will never blog that. Euw!”

    Good to know:)

    And yeah, the piercing thing is hard to avoid nowadays.

  13. #13 Jessica Palmer
    March 22, 2010

    Catharine – that is so horrifying. I was reading your comment thinking of the ACTUAL vagina, not the public area, and the thought of hot glue, well, really not very pleasant at all. Owwwwww.

  14. #14 Jessica Palmer
    March 22, 2010

    Oh yes – the caddisflies!

    http://bioephemera.com/2007/07/13/aesthetic-outsourcing-arthropod-artisans/

    And thanks Esmeralda – your comments are always a treat. :)

  15. #15 bo moore
    March 24, 2010

    I’m confused, as I often am by articles these days. The lead in to this subject implies that real, diseased people are being “decorated” in some fusion of art, skin infection, and acupuncture. Apparently not. Blemish-free young models are used, and the connection to disease is just a sensationalized concept, straight out of decadent ideas like self-abuse as art. Bring on the blood!

  16. #16 Tlazolteotl
    March 24, 2010

    Oh, man! I’d really love to get some of those gold acupuncture needles to fashion into rings for my nostril piercing!

  17. #17 Patricia
    March 26, 2010

    I think it’s vagazzled. Redonk concept, plus it should be pubazzled or similar. I too find it annoying that most people seem to call the vulva, pubis or general pubic area the ‘vagina’. I’d be a bit worried about having a Brazillian (NEVER!!!) if my vagina became visible as a result! :?

  18. #18 tiffany1837jewelry
    May 6, 2010

    It reminds me a little of the post you made a looooooooong time ago about cockroaches who were given gold and precious stones to make cocoons out of. The contrast of “ick disease!” and “ooh, pretty!”

  19. #19 Glass Of Venice
    July 5, 2010

    I am confused, as I often am by articles these days. The lead in to this matter implies that real, diseased people are being “decorated” in some fusion of art, skin transmission, and acupuncture. Apparently not.

    And yeah, the piercing thing is hard to avoid nowadays.

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