Skin rubbed smooth
Let it roll off the tongue. Allow the m … p …s …t … to slither, joyfully, audibly, to conjoin into a tangle of consonants. Palimpsest, then.
Start there where images, stories, sounds—even time—bleeds through a top layer. Stand before canvases erased, never knowing what is buried.
Earlid’s fourth annual Liminal Sounds listens to short works with a focus on what lies beneath, skin next to other skins, the outer interior of objects, excised stories.
Listen for the palimpsest of bodies and cities and snow; the skin of audio tape; objects rubbed relentlessly. The very texture can be held in the hands, turned like pages. Parchment is respected for its once belonging to part of a living creature; roe deer running, caught by traffic or a hunter’s gun. The surface has the imprint of veins, grain of the skin, layers of translucent collagen. Its opacity sits below the surface, like a shallow pool.
Part of the word palimpsest comes from the Greek: psestos means ‘rubbed smooth.’ Like skin, as it happens. Something is lost, held, uncurled.
At the entry of the exhibit …
Beckoning us inside are the visual components of two artists whose work begs to be touched.
Annette le Fort‘s Phonetic Skin is an experiment: a table and two hands which, one after the other, hold various books, open them and then, during an imaginary process of reading, rubs two pages together.
This gives rise to sounds with a phonetic quality; the paper speaks, like a memory upon its palimpsest surfaces.
And just as the human voice carries within it traces of the body that produces it and these also ‘speak,’ as it were, so too the different book-bodies here develop voices which are influenced by their respective materiality, paper, binding.
Annette le Fort, excerpt, Phonetic Skin: A Library of Voices
Thirty-eight of these ‘page-rubbings’ (by Stein, by Kafka and Benjamin, among others) appeal to a synaesthetic inquiry: how does a page of silent writing sound between the fingers?
Listen to some of these, even set to play at once, like a duet, as a kind of erasure of sounds.
Seemingly more diffuse than the experience of holding a book, is the sound sculpture of Timo Kahlen.
Built entirely for the interior online realm, Kahlen’s construction is visible and audible, but only once Flash player is enabled in a laptop’s browser. This further sequestering away from the immediacy of the mobile landscape of smartphones or tablets is intentional.
Such limitations summon the pleasure of listening, as well as a kind of vanishing (or disappearing of the very traces of technologies). It feels as if a match is striking; the sizzle lingers, ghostlike and evanescent. Sounds float, swim and staccato their way across the screen and ear. If you forget and leave headphones over your ears, sounds bleed through like lichen at your every nudge of the cursor: they are of the surface and much deeper within the piece.
Follow to / source / (postfactual) and when you get there, adjust your navigation gear, settle in. Allow the cursor to scratch the monochrome white top layer to investigate the alleged void. Discover alternative facts and embedded sound in real-time. There’s a change of values just below the surface.
Earlid’s liminal sounding …
We listen and a door opens in the ears. Stylus on wax, like a tattoo. Chisel and brush, pigment. An imagined layering of hides and pelt; rind and peel and hull; film, membrane casing.
Watch for scrapes and abrasions. Bark and chafe.
Scratch an itch.
Here, then, are the audio proclivities of 15 artists answering these many hollers.
Artists featured in Skin rubbed smooth:
—Joan Schuman, Earlid, spring 2018