In 1812, whilst minding their own business, six sheep in a forest clearing were struck by lightning and died. Upon skinning the unfortunate animals, it was discovered that the image of the surrounding trees had been scorched onto their skin.
Published as the result of a LVMH-funded residency at a tannery in southeastern France, Thomas Mailaender’s Skin Memories peels away the traditional definition of a photograph. In the book’s essay, photography historian Luce Lebart explains that skin is a sensitive surface - as the sheep learnt to their detriment. Mailaender’s process plays with these "animal origins" of photography. After experimenting alongside the tannery’s chemists with traditional cyanotype, anthotype, and Van Dyke processes on the surface of leather, he developed a new technique of printing on animal skin.
With the ability to transfer and fix images onto the leathers, he then began to collect an epidermal archive; photographs, clippings, advertisements, postcards, and negatives related to skin, the body and culture. The result is works such as Monster Munch, 2016, “Hide of an immature bull printed with Prussian blue and pigments. Glass and gunmetal steel frame.” A ghostly blue impression of pots excavated during an archaeological dig in the 1940s are imposed onto a piece of animal pelt, the result peppered with images of the smiling ghost-shaped crisps of the piece’s title (Monster Munch are a different shape in Europe - who knew?!).
Although, at the back of the book, there is a catalogue of the finished works alongside an essay and interview with Mailaender himself, the book is more of a documentation of the process of creating them. The stretched hides are seen recto and verso, hung on exterior walls, propped against interior ones. They’re seen in extreme detail, with splattered colours, and simply piled up with other untouched skins. Mailaender also includes some of the original archive source material throughout the book. They are distributed amongst photographs of the process, bags of chemicals and a paint splattered tank.
There is, as with much of Mailaender’s work, humour. An image of a screaming gorilla is juxtaposed with a freshly peeled banana. A cow wears sunglasses - a morbid joke, perhaps, in reference to the material it is printed onto. Opening up the work for political interpretation, in his interview Mailaender suggests that the shape of some hides could recall shapes of territories. The books are full of mishmashes and juxtapositions, multimedia high-jinx, continuously playing with the notion of a photograph. The final product spins the whole process into something utterly - a word Mailaender coincidentally has tattooed across the skin of his ass - FUN.
PEACH COUNT: 1 (on the cover!)
Skin Memories by Thomas Mailaender is published by RVB Books in French/English, 2016. It has 2 different slipcases and 3 different soft covers, chosen by the artist. 164 pages, including 20 with micro-perforation.