Ang Kia Yee 洪佳仪

Touch Skin

Dear ___,

The body is a flesh-suit for consciousness. What have you been made conscious of in the past year, as the world entered pandemic panic mode and existing inequalities imploded in nearly every country? As Naomi Shihab Nye wrote, “So much of any year is flammable,” but I don’t think most people expected such great and enduring flames.

The physical body is a vessel with a specific interface - the skin, which stretches over ears, nose, eyes, mouth, fingers, toes, knees,... A sensing and sensuous surface with depth. There is space underneath against which the world - an object, a sound, another body - can press. Can leave a mark. Can create a feeling so rapturous that you’ll never be the same again. This remains true for the posthuman body, even as its tendrils and appendages and interfaces continue to extend our systems and surfaces ad infinitum.

During the pandemic, our skin has become particularly visible as a node of reception and transmission. Its natural state may be described as open: open to affection, to violence, to virus. Unable to switch off this interface at will, we’ve had to withdraw from one another to keep us safe from ourselves. We’ve had to dull orifices like our mouths by masking them, speaking less. As with other “ongoing and irrefutable ways in which we are all subject to one another”, affection, violence and virus are wrapped up with each other; in order to be open to one, one often has to be open to all.

Withdrawn from public space, we became conscious of our bodies as conduits for contact and proximity, and, by extension, intimacies we may have taken for granted. Turning to our networked bodies, we were made conscious of their extents and limits, their enmeshed potential for intimacy and loneliness. It seems that more commonly-used technologies, such as Zoom, are not (yet) able to replace the immediacy of the body. The body, then, is still the most complex and nuanced sensory interface and assemblage toward which user-centric technologies often aspire.

Excerpt from essay written for Networked Bodies,
an exhibition by Supernormal as part of Singapore Art Week 2021