Skin is a border that feels; it is open to other bodies, interacting and taking on different shapes. It is in this opening to others through inter-embodiment that touch differentiates bodies requiring us to examine the boundary not as a division but as the very location, a threshold that produces bodies and knowledges.
– Stephanie Springgay, 2008
Thinking with feminist post-structural authors such as Stephanie Springgay (2008) and Sara Ahmed (2000), this post shares an assemblage of words, images and poetry that emerged between intra-acting bodies – human and non-human – in a shanti-school in Goa, India. Pulling apart materials – tearing dried leaves of coconut trees, oozing flesh of plump seeds – the children expressed their curiosities about “what skin can do.”
As liquid glue dried over our skin – a capsule of bark, leaves and the inveterate red dust of India – we became with an event. Not a lesson to be understood or product to gain, but an experience to be questioned – to be felt.
Cheeks – gaal – arms
open – this is not open, inside is flesh
Red – our colours – scars, moles, sun – hair
“lots of skin – all over bodies”
Layered over the primary classroom’s tile floor is a plethora of jungle matter – pieces of dried up leaves, twigs, shells, seeds, bark, and other shrubbery that was pulled up and left under a walking bridge in my local village. Setting up bowls of liquid glue – “gum” – the oozing in-between which shapes our work. As the sounds of local traffic, scooter horns and screeching pigs, pick up with the morning sun, I hear the rickety sounds of the school buses arriving out front. After a few moments, a hum of little footsteps and children’s chatter reverberates through the courtyard. Beginning with a small group of rambunctious first year students, children in blue, pressed uniforms spill into the classroom, climbing over one another as they hang up book bags before hovering over the spread of “rubbish.” Their moving bodies remind me of an army of ants dancing over each other in an intricate push for the lead. Settling like jigsaw pieces around the display of materials, some stare blankly – others giggle over the absurdity of waste inside the formalized structure that is their school. Thinking about how close their bodies move in the group and my own western-adaptation to this sort of proximity and touch, I begin our session with a set of questions. First in English and then in Hindi, I ask the children open-ended questions which I hope may create movement and new conditions of thought before they explore with the materials.
त्वचा क्या है
Tvacha kya hai
What is skin?
त्वचा क्या कर सकते हैं?
Tvacha kya kar sakate hain
What can skin do?
Silence. The children look at me blankly, seemingly unsure of what it is that I am asking. Though an instinct rises to fill the space with clarification, I choose to sit in the quiet. To offer silence is to renegotiate the ordinary with a quivering in the stability of category or trajectory, a momentary stutter – “a suspension of the narrative” – an unfolding into space (Stewart, 2007, p. 19). Paying attention here, there is a lull in the action. Eyes wander over the materials, up to me, and to each other. I wonder about what disequilibrium may make possible. One boy questions, “What do you want us to make?” Another appears confused, “What is this craft?” I ask the question again, “What can skin do?” but this time I explain, “There is no right answer, I want to hear any idea you have – from your imagination.” Their stares linger for a few moments and after a short silence, hands begin to rise and the gentle sounds of curious voices bubble into a dialogue.
Skin can change
Out in the trees
Falling off my arms, it goes away and becomes something else
Inside an animal – or an ant
Breaking the shell
Seeds get squished, their insides come out
Bones, like twine
The branches have tears
I can open it up to see what’s inside
I’ll join it with another, but it doesn’t fit
It goes out
My skin goes out with the jungle
“When two hands touch, there is a sensuality of the flesh, an exchange of warmth, a feeling of pressure, of presence, a proximity of otherness that brings the other nearly as close as oneself. Perhaps closer… So much happens in a touch: an infinity of others – other beings, other spaces, other times – are aroused.”
– Karen Barad, 2012
A child touches my arm, wide-eyed and whispering, he closely examines its colour – “gora.” Another leans against my back, with her delicate arm around my neck she twirls her fingers through strands falling at my shoulders. From inside my belly I notice a sense of discomfort. I am adapting to a new way of knowing bodies – space – and touch. Feeling for the pressure points of forces in relation, my instinct calls to set a boundary. A regulated space to mark the separation of our bodies. At home, I live and teach this.
Inward shoulders and lowered eyes.
Public bodies, arms at their sides within defined capsules.
Here, bodies are shared. Connected through touch, we mingle through streets in a communal sweat. There is no boundary marking a separation of individuals. We move in many directions and appear as one.
My skin touches yours
I feel your molecules with mine
Do I know you?
Have I been here before?
Tracing your lines, a path is trailed through wrinkled folds
Scabs and scars – a canvas of our histories
A still frame image of tiny specs in space
Pulling apart, hovering in time
Close, but barely touching
Distance harbors their electricity
Tiny hairs alive with curiosity
Fluid as the legs of swimming jellyfish
An event is waking in the space between organs
Skin becomes new
A carrier of cells
Recycled – old, new and inbetween
And becoming in difference