Skin Conversations

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

fleshy

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.


tvacha 

त्वचा

Cheeks – gaal – arms

                           eyelids

open – this is not open, inside is flesh

blood 

रक्त

gurdee

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.

 


redskin

Skin can change

मुलायम

                      Mulaayam

                      Out in the trees

                                    Prickly things

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

कट गया

kat gaya

 

I can open it up to see what’s inside

I’ll join it with another, but it doesn’t fit

नया

 

Naya

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

Energy bubbles

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

Reaching out

Fluid as the legs of swimming jellyfish

An event is waking in the space between organs

Skin becomes new

A threshold

A carrier of cells

Recycled – old, new and inbetween

Familiar, unknown

And becoming in difference  

 

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