Photographer Ariana Page Russell has an autoimmune condition called dermatographia. Whenever her skin is even lightly scratched, her capillaries dilate and painless, temporary red welts form. So Russell creates art. On her skin.
Russell, who has an MFA in photography from the University of Washington, takes pictures of her welts. Although the response is involuntary, Russell's art rests on her ability to manipulate and control it.
Russell also makes collages of her photographs, re-arranging patterns and the reddish gradients of her skin's histamine response. These collages she either turns into wallpaper designs (her father is a paper hanger), or temporary tattoos, which she then applies to her skin and re-photographs. "Some of the tattoos also go on the wall or window after they've made contact with my body," says Russell, "leaving traces of cells and hair, and holding a record of skin's map."
In a way, it's not surprising that so many women artists find a ready topic in work that interrogates the body: as a woman, you rarely have the luxury of treating your body as simply the place you live. Our bodies are dissected and investigated in the public sphere, critiqued and pricked and analysed. What is striking in Russell's work is its directness: she's actually inscribing her art on her own flesh. And I, for one, find it mesmerizing.
New York-based Jezzies take note: Russell has an exhibit, titled "Dressing," which is on view until May 16 at the Magnan Projects, 317 10th Avenue (between 28th and 29th Sts).