21 February 2013

Take A Piece

(WARNING: Contains graphic imagery of surgery)

In a documented one-time surgery-performance, a plastic surgeon removed a 110mm x 10mm strip of skin from the abdomen of Sruli Recht. The subcutaneous tissue and epidermis was then scraped from the dermis, which is stripped of fat by hand and blade, before being salted, and tanned with an Alum solution. The resulting leather from the dermis was prepared for use in the ring, Forget Me Knot.

Fashion is obsessed with the body, and it is ever-increasingly obsessed with identity (of designer, of model, etc.). Whereas once the designer would watch their show anxiously from behind the curtain, and meet with a few select attendees after the show, the designer now has to be seen and has to be heard. Creating a public profile, however artificial, is now seen as a necessity for being able to sell well. The clothes no longer speak for themselves, for in today's age, the overwhelming majority of fashion is not seen in person, it is not tried on, but is merely consumed through imagery. And even then the profits for major houses come not through clothing, the ostensible bread and butter of a fashion house, but through licensed products - perfume, make up, sunglasses, the affordable pieces of luxury-by-association. So the designer has to be packaged and presented for public consumption, and our ravenous hunger for celebrity does the rest of the work. 

Personality sells. Fashion history becomes myth even as events unfold - the troubled genius, the enfant terrible, the visionary. We want a piece of the designer, for that piece allows us entree into a world of fantasy and a world of beauty. The piece is branded for all to see, whether it be the name of a designer across the band of our underwear, or a logo knowingly placed in some discreet but not too discreet location. The designer becomes superstar and celebrity, and it can often seem that the clothing takes backstage. Fashion fans know the names Cristobal Balenciaga or Christian Lacroix, but ask them to describe the clothes they created...and nothing. Fashion has a short memory, and even as myths are created, the personality is canonised but the work forgotten.

Take this idea to the extreme. Everyone wants a piece of the designer, everyone wants a piece of that identity, but how can you truly give that to someone? Sruli Recht provides an answer. You quite literally give them a piece of yourself.  

SR661 - Leather made from the abdomen skin of Sruli Recht, mounted to a 24 carat gold band.
There will be only one of this piece made.
The Forget Me Knot band is presented with a DNA certificate and a complete DVD documentary of the process, surgery and interviews with the involved team.

Forget Me Knot
SR661, Nov/Dec 2012, 1 of 1
Anthropodermic leather and 24 carat gold

"The shaping of self-identity in the postmodern era is in a critical sense a body project. We can see the body to an increasing extent tending to become seminal for an understanding of self-identity. The ego is very much constituted via the presentation of the body."
- Lars Svendsen

Oscar Wilde said that to be truly medieval one should have no body, and that to be truly modern one should have no soul. The traditional dualism of body and soul, as expounded by Platonic and Christian* traditions, deemed that identity and a person's self was contained within the soul, and that the body acted as the vessel for this soul. This vessel was not necessarily defined by its own appearances and attributes, but rather by that which it was claimed to hold within. The body was not seen as something in constant flux as it is now, or indeed as something that needed improving and training, for to grow and improve as a person it was deemed that one had to instead focus on training the soul.

In societies where there is rigid social hierarchy, the self is internalised, for it provides a way of understanding and coping - depth allows one to have some hidden meaning and purpose, something more than what one was born into, and would no doubt die within. Remove that hierarchy, and the surface comes into play, for it is not the natural attributes that define the individual. There is now room for movement, and so definition is found in what they create for the world to see. As religion was supplanted by newer ways of viewing the world, talk of the soul seemed antiquated, and so identity was shifted from the intangibility of the soul to the realities of flesh and skin.

The body has become our identity, our self, and it is something that is never taken to be complete - it can be constantly changed in order to try and fit into the aesthetic and social norms of the time. The body becomes the ultimate fashion object, this frame for our clothing, for our look, for how we are seen in the world. The corset sought to train and shape the body into the accepted model of beauty, just as hours in the gym (or under the knife) now train and shape our bodies into some ever-elusive ideal of beauty. We are a society obsessed by bodies, by flesh, by skin. It has become the very site of our identity, and as such the body can never be seen as a purely natural entity.

The body is always dressed and presented, even when naked, so perhaps in order to truly observe it, it must be severed from this reality, or else, entirely invested into it. One need only look to the part-objects of postmodern art to see the ways in which this idea has been explored. And of course it is obviously also readily apparent in much of fashion's history, being as it is an art form centred around the presentation of the body. Simply think of the uncanny that arises when seeing garments in the absence of the body, wherein they act as discarded second skins, standing in for a whole no longer present. That ghost of identity, whether it be in the individual patterning of creases and fading of fabric or simply through personal association, destabilises the view of a self imbedded deep within, for here it is for everyone to see. And nowhere is this made more explicit than in quite literally removing one's skin.  

I think the decision to mount the skin to a 24 carat gold band was rather interesting due to the immediate reference of the wedding band. Jewellery in many early cultures was seen to hold talismanic and spiritual powers, whether it be a tooth from an animal killed in the hopes of gaining the strength of that animal, or simply a knotted piece of cloth to remind one of a vow (an idea that continues even today in many cultures). But as the spiritual has been superseded, the only piece of jewellery that holds any relatively universal meaning (outside of religious jewellery such as the Sikh kara or Christian cross), is the wedding band. Almost all other jewellery has no specific social meaning, being instead pieces of adornment which in their non-specificity allow one to create one's own framework of potential meaning. As such this ring can be seen as harking back to older traditions of jewellery and as such providing a dialectic between the body (leather made from skin) and the soul (the 'wedding' ring stands in for the soul due to its symbolic associations).

An extreme project, but one that is all the more fascinating because of that.

(*Judeo-Islamic traditions do not necessarily fall into the same category, given the sartorial and grooming codes, as well as the way the body is treated after death.)


  1. This is the first time I've heard about this and from the first paragraph I must admit to being completely thrown by it.

    It's a very interesting project and when you heard about it more it does seem very profound and spiritual in some ways. It's also fair to say it wouldn't go down so well with the majority

  2. Ummm~ too bizarre!Not my type of things to take a look at my breakfast time. I would not be able to watch that video too! I am sorry, Syed OX

  3. Syed, what a great post. So extreme to some maybe, but a very relevent concept I feel. ( and maybe if you are at all familiar with funerary practices and different art pertaining to the macabre, not so odd after all). Somehow you have managed once again managed to give me a different way to view the fashion industry.Thanks! XX E

  4. Jesus Christ! Thanks for putting this up Syed! Always been a fan of Sruli Recht and had no idea he did this... Extreme doesn't cut it but hey my friends WE HAVE THE NEW! or at least something new! In today's culture being able to shock people with a commodity is extremely rare and Sruli certainly will. I just hope people can digest their initial gut wrenching reaction and consider what Mr Recht is trying to say!