Can skin touch across vast distance? Across generations of time? Or worlds of difference? And, what is it for one’s skin to touch another’s anyway?
Philosopher Luce Irigaray describes the “touch of the caress” – a gentle lover’s touch by which the felt limits of the skin return the one and the other back to themselves in what is a gesture of acknowledgement and affirmation of their difference. Might this be the same kind of tenderness we practice in moments of remembrance, whether of a lover or any other loved?
In Offering, skin mediates between artist and ancestor, connecting the two across time and space. Wallaby parchment is combined with butcher’s paper to create a gestural lekythos-like vase, decorated with line drawing—drawn in ballpoint pen, as if a reminder written on the skin of the hand—to remember and imaginatively depict my fifth-great-grandmother’s life story.
While the details of Mary Ann’s story beyond her crime and convict journey from England to Australia in 1802 are not fully known—all I know is that she stole thirteen yards of Irish cloth (among other things), which she “wrapped round her waist”, and was “transported for seven years” as a result—, I imagine the moment that led to her conviction as ecstatic (that is, outside the limits of any fixed state) and acknowledge too the colonising origin that I myself, by birth, now share in.
Taking the shape of a classical funerary vessel traditionally filled with oil and offered as a gift for the dead, this work, like death itself, unsettles sentimentality to remember that experiences of life and death are forever touching and that now, with worlds and histories as enmeshed as ever, tender, instinctive gestures that acknowledge the connection between the two may be just what we need.
Rebekah Pryor, May 2021
This piece was exhibited in Meshwork, curated by Dr Grace Pundyk and on show at Sidespace Gallery, Battery Point, Tasmania in May 2021. Read about the exhibition here.
Enquire about the purchase of this artwork here.