Not unlike the fictional teenagers of C.S. Lewis who walked through a wardrobe and ended up in Narnia, visitors to the SKIN exhibit boarded a rickety elevator in the lobby of the 25 East 13th Street building, on the night of April 2, and arrived in the midst of a forest.
To be clear, it was only a forest made of synthetic mulch, artificial leaves, potted plants, and dead tree limbs hanging from the ceiling. But the illusion was a striking one—especially as guests first approached the area before making their way throughout the rest of the exhibit.
The night marked the opening of SKIN, a joint collaboration between Parsons students Laura Heinzinger, Jeesu Kim, and Nicki Muller. The exhibit also features artworks from Dylan Fisher and Jessica Tang.
An upside-down television playing a looped clip of a waterfall — downloaded from YouTube — laid at the center of the forest floor marked by a circular mound of dirt. On a television mounted on the opposite wall was another video installation, by Jeesu Kim, depicting footage she filmed last summer around the perimeter of her friend’s house in the suburbs of Long Island.
Another rectangular box inset within the screen played looped footage of Kim walking the same route in reverse: winding along a brick pathway, bypassing the manicured lawn, panning quickly across a large blue pool, unoccupied except for an inflatable penguin.
The theme of the exhibit, which continues through April 13, is based around a quote from the video artist Nam Jun Paik, “Skin has become inadequate in interfacing with reality. Technology has become the body’s new membrane of existence.”
Traces of Paik’s declaration can be found in almost every piece in the exhibit, from the manufactured forest positioned outside of the elevator to the tessellated pattern made of waterfalls hanging on an adjacent wall, to the amateurish gaze of Kim’s camcorder and the makeshift karaoke station assembled in the middle of the room.
“The original idea was to play with the idea of nature and artificiality,” said Kim.
The forest, explained Muller and Heinzinger, was initially planned on an even grander scale. The collaborators had intended to use life-size images of forests as wallpaper for the space, with artificial plants fastened into the walls as if they were coming to life. But after setting up the exhibit they quickly decided to pare it down.
“We were happy with what happened,” Muller said. “We have like the fake tree and the real tree back and forth, back and forth … And I think that idea is interesting: what is real, what is not?”
“It was actually Laura’s idea … to talk about technology and how we experience things,” added Kim. “She came up with the overarching idea of the show.”
The karaoke machine, one of Heinzinger’s pieces, is meant to explore how the Internet has become a more relaxed stage for people to perform and build personas.
“It’s weird because if you’re in a physical space with people, and you have a stage to actually perform, they don’t want to do it … They’re like too shy,” said Heinzinger. “But they’re willing to post anything on the Internet.”
Fortunately for viewers, the naturalness or artificiality of the karaoke sessions will begin and end at the SKIN exhibit, and will not be recorded or uploaded on YouTube. But Heinzinger admitted that the idea had occurred to her.