This weekend, a young woman posted an AMA to Reddit, inviting users to ask questions about her strange skin condition dermatographia: Wherever she scratches on her skin, that area will swell up, so she can make designs and words. One of the top-rated comments was that she should turn this amusing, non-painful condition into art. But another Redditor quickly pointed out that, as is the case with many great ideas, that’s already been done.
And so I stumbled across artist Ariana Page Russell. Even though she’s exhibited her work — or would it be called performance art? — both online and in galleries over the past few years, this was our first introduction to her.
Russell has been scratching patterns and words all over her body for the past few years; like with the Redditor who posted the AMA, it seems to cause her no pain. Nonetheless, viewing her images — which have sold for thousands of dollars — might make you a tad uncomfortable, as you imagine scraping the same fleur-de-lils and herringbone prints all over your body. And there’s something incredibly intimate about this image at left, of Russell’s legs adorned with a stream-of-consciousness narrative. An exhibition in late 2011 described her recent work as such:
Russell’s recent work continues to explore the possibilities of flesh, using her skin as both source material and an entry to go deeper into the body and its emotions.
The patterns are gorgeous, and almost make you wish you were part of the 5% of the population who has dermatographia, if only for the ability to turn your absentminded doodles into art. The best part is that it’s temporary, which obviously ups the price of Russell’s work but also allows her to treat her body as an ever-changing canvas.
Some photos, like this one, do make me wonder if she intends for any sort of commentary on self-harming. Artist Shaun Kardinal, who collaborated with Russell in 2008, said that in this piece Inflection, “she and I bared our individual responses to a shared trauma.”
Photos: Ariana Page Russell