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These Hyperreal Bodysuits Show That The Self Is More Than Skin Deep

An artist created wearable sculptures molded from real people’s bodies.

THE GOOD NEWS:

Stepping into someone else’s skin can help someone experience how other people’s bodies move through the world.


Inside a gallery, lifelike recreations of bodies are displayed as if they are pieces of designer clothing.

Viewers roam the space and inspect the work up close, taking a peek inside the garment to investigate the quality of the craftsmanship. Attendees can even try on some of these simulated-skin suits inside a mirrored dressing room. With “Bodysuits,” a solo show in 2018 at Superchief Gallery from conceptual artist Sarah Sitkin, the nude human form isn’t all that different from the articles we use to clothe it.

That’s part of the point.

Artist Sarah Sitkin fits a woman into a bodysuit. Photo by Tod Seelie, used with permission.

The Superchief Gallery has a fitting room where visitors can try on the bodysuits. Photo by Tod Seelie, used with permission.

Sitkin is a Los-Angeles-based artist who often uses special effects techniques commonly associated with the film world. With “Bodysuits,” she created hyperrealistic, wearable sculptures molded from the bodies of real people.

[quote position="full" is_quote="true"]Our bodies are not the holders of our identity.[/quote]

The bodies that comprise Sitkin’s collection of works are diverse. Some are visibly young, featuring taught muscular definition. Others are showing signs of age in their wrinkles and spots. Some are large; others are small. The bodies tell stories of life experiences, like pregnancy and cancer, but they keep the identity of the owner anonymous. There are no faces attached to these bodies. Instead, there are a few personal details hidden underneath the skin.

Sitkin molds her works from real bodies and adds each hair by hand. Photo by Tod Seelie, used with permission.

The skin suits are intricately detailed in the ways they curve and sag as real human figures do. They’re also canvases on which Sitkin added even more vivid details. She used photo references to paint the multitude of intimate markings that her models bear: freckles and sunspots, surgical scars and tattoos, even the faint lines from where underwear rubbed up against flesh. She also meticulously inserted hair follicles by hand to match the bodies of the models.

In her artist statement, Sitkin notes that the concept stemmed from her grandmother’s request to have a mold made of her toes. “Our universal detachment with our bodies leads us through a lifetime of serious divides, between fantasy and reality for what our bodies should and could be,” Sitkin wrote. “I do not believe the body defines who we are. It’s not really the essence of ‘us,’ but functions more like a garment than a persona.”

On one level, Sitkin’s work is a middle finger to the external forces convincing us that our bodies aren’t good enough. We live in a world where the message of perfection is nearly inescapable. We see frequent images of bodies that are digitally manipulated to become flawless. We ingest advertisements on how we might be able to attain lofty aesthetic ambitions, be it through a diet or plastic surgery. The ideals are such a part of the culture that even the parts of our bodies that aren’t regularly on public display are up for personal scrutiny. Yet, in Sitkin’s show, every body literally is a work of art crafted with utmost care and attention to detail.

A woman looks at the interior detail of a bodysuit by Sarah Sitkin. Photo by Tod Seelie, used with permission.

Bill Dunleavy, co-founder of Superchief Gallery, has worked closely with Sitkin over the past few years. The gallery hosted her first major solo show in 2016. He says that with “Bodysuits,” the artist is taking a deep dive into the myriad issues that surround our physical selves.

“It gives you a sense of mortality and aging and change and the inevitability of what happens to our bodies,” Dunleavy says. “We didn’t choose them and they change. I think the show presents an interesting meditation on those subjects.”

“Bodysuits” began to generate buzz when selected pieces turned up at Miami’s Art Basel in December 2017 and L.A. Art Show in January 2018.

Photo by Tod Seelie, used with permission.

“She’s made such a varied body of work that has always involved a lot of set dressing and her own photography of her work,” Dunleavy explains. “And I think this show takes her conceptual work to another level as a fine artist, to be dealing with concrete issues like identity and level of comfort with nudity, and those taboos in such a clean and conceptual way, in addition to the super-skilled craftsmanship of the pieces.”

Since the full show opened March 10, 2018, it’s been a hit, so much so that Dunleavy indicates there are plans of extending its run in Los Angeles before hopefully taking it on the road. “This one, I feel, would make a really great traveling show to museums and has educational benefits. It’s almost like having medical models,” Dunleavy says. “It’s an educational and a therapeutic show, as well as being conceptual.”

The interior of the bodysuits is lined with fabric representing the person it is based on. Photo by Ed Zipco, used with permission.

Each bodysuit is lined with fabric, much like a well-made article of clothing. Here, though, the linings are unique with the choices of fabric, and small embellishments are sewn inside pointing to aspects of the models’ lives and personalities. “It’s meant to communicate that our bodies are not the holders of our identity,” says Dunleavy of this design element.

And, because people can try on different suits, there’s another layer of meaning revealed: As the external layer of the body can — and will — change, but the person inside is the same.

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