Archive: June 2019

This corporeal intercession

This corporeal intercession is repeated with greater forcefulness and more completely in a 1989 work entitled Selbst. For this piece he had his body tattooed with three small roses and a seven digit number, which was altered in sequence by only a decimal point to those which marked Jews interned in concentration camps during the Second World War. This area of the skin was then surgically removed, replaced with a graft, mounted on an exhibition invitation card, and displayed in a metal and glass vitrine. While opening himself up to accusations of sensationalism, the classic defense of this work has been to represent his decision as an alignment with the horror of the millions of holocaust victims, by symbolically identifying with their suffering. What emerges for me rather, is the only route for Scott to circumnavigate the truisms of masculine sincerity that emerge with the set of symbols he has chosen for his body of work from popular culture, through a will to abjection articulated by his willingness to extend the extreme gesture to his own body. Selbst does not necessarily function on the level of image symbolism, but its power operates rather through its role as a sculptural signpost, which points back to the temporally located performativity of the artist having the tattoo excised from his body.

Scott’s iconography could easily have become one more representation of southern Ontario industrial masculinity (Oshawa, Hamilton, Windsor), whose working class rebellion has traditionally been assuaged through hard rock music, soft drugs and fast cars, and more often than not functions as a prelude to entry into the established order. These border towns repeat the cultural ethos of hard hat communities such as Detroit, Michigan, which in the 1960s (when Scott was growing up) spawned Iggy Pop and MC5, whose angst laid claim to the social liminality of heroin addiction, cross dressing, bisexuality and S&M sexual practices. The extreme, exacerbated sensibility of Scott’s art of abjection reinflects this liminality, and ultimately provides a slippage around the policing categories of control, through its willingness to take the notion of edge to corporeal extremes.

Linked insight: Oil Painting News