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Pretty on the Inside

By Rhizome

In Laura Splan's mixed-media practice, the human body functions as both a physiological and cultural site: a conjunction of blood, bones, viruses and viscera masked by successive layers of social display, including clothing and makeup. To Splan, these accoutrements are means of hiding our bodies (as opposed to adorning them) and therefore serve as symptoms of a broader social discomfort with the unpleasant realities of human biology. Splan's work endeavors to expose this condition by interweaving the carnal and decorative spheres, as in Trousseau (Negligee #1) (2007), a negligee made from cosmetic facial masks and machine-embroidered with various botanical and ornamental decorative motifs. After use, these masks can preserve intricate details of human hair and flesh-- a material property Splan exploits by mapping the entirety of her body with the masks that comprise Trousseau. The negligee's intended but absent body -- already implied by its presentation on a black dress form -- is thus reiterated by the carnal traces recorded on the very fabric of the piece. An even more unnerving work, Blood Scarf (2002) consists of knitted, clear vinyl tubing attached to an intravenous device, such that the wearer of the piece contributes to its materiality by supplying it with his or her own blood. In this, Splan moves into even more extreme territory than Rebecca Horn, whose performance/sculptures like Overflowing Blood Machine (1970) included human bodies wrapped in blood-filled tubes, which weren't actually connected to the performers. Blood Scarf fascinates not simply for its uncanny construction, but because of the paradox at the center of its relationship to its wearer: that it fulfills the scarf's function to warm and preserve the human body through a process that simultaneously debilitates a given wearer. -- Tyler Coburn

Image Credit: Laura Splan, Blood Scarf, 2002

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