Mayumi Hosokura’s New Skin
At a time when touch is limited, a new photobook reminds us of the alluring sensuality of contact.
The meaning and understanding of touch—particularly between bodies and technologies—is in flux. Bodies, especially Black, Brown, trans, and non-gender conforming, and menstruating bodies, remain politicized. Against this landscape, Japanese photographer Mayumi Hosokura’s new photobook, New Skin, reminds us of the alluring sensuality of contact. The soft-bound floppy oversized book at first look, shows an abstracted collage of bodies—disembodied arms, clutching hands, bottoms of feet, clumps of hair, edges of chests and nipples. Out of this layering emerge other recognizable forms—jean’s zippers, iPhones, and classical Renaissance statues. The images are not quite black-and-white, but rather have the yellowish tint of x-ray film or negatives, created by printing the book with metallic inks. The pictures are presented full bleed to the edge of every page, which end in Japanese folds, giving them a heavier weight and the impression that images are endlessly flowing over the edges. Each page is cut from one single larger digital collage, though the pages are not arranged to sequentially show this, and instead read more like mixed up puzzle pieces.
The book offers no introductory texts or context for the close fragments of lust—to call it anything else would not properly capture the frenzied desire in the pages, desire for another body but also for the grasp of a new phone and all that it offers at our fingertips, for the smoothness of cut marble and the pristine representation of a body it presents—save for some framing quotes from Donna Haraway’s 1988 essay, “Situated Knowledges: The Science Question in Feminism and the Privilege of Partial Perspective,” which is quoted at the opening and close of the book. Haraway is known for her feminist writings on technology and the body. Her work often critiques the masculine perspective of scientific research and objectivity, and using her words to frame her pictures, Hosokura places New Skin in the context of explorations of subjectivity and objectivity, the self and technology, and gender fluidity and construction.
In one spread, classical statues are collaged together with varying levels of transparency. In the top right of the image, fingers grasp an iPhone. Across the fold on another page, the lips of a statue poke out from an enlarged hand with fingers that seem to be clinging to flesh—though the monochrome benday texture of the images make them purposefully hard to decipher. The repetition of clinging fingers connects our desire to touch one another with our desire to touch technological objects, and technology’s subsequent extension of our bodies. All the spreads share these motifs, and collectively the book reads more like jumbled film stills, a mix of cinematic slow pans of bodies with flashes of racey movie love scenes.
Few pages have faces. When one is visible, as in a spread halfway through featuring a face in the bottom left corner with an upraised hand resting against the forehead, it is jarring. The vantage point makes it seem as though the figure is looking up at us, creating a strange orientation between our bodies and the book, as though we too are enmeshed in this frenzy of skin, lying atop the book. The face is startling, reminding us of the personhood of the flesh the book so warmly makes us desire, while still maintaining anonymity for all involved (the hand obstructs the full face and in turn covers the figure’s eyes, obstructing them from seeing us).
New Skin was released in March, and while it certainly captures the erotic relationship between bodies and technology, no one could have predicted how much more relevance it would have by the end of March, and more so now. With people all over the globe in various states of social isolation, many crave the kind of intimate touch expressed in Hosokura’s images. And as a consequence of this required distance, instead we cling to our screens—touching and gazing into them as the only means of connection many of us have to others. This new—or perhaps simply magnified—relationship with technology further blurs the lines between ourselves and our devices. I go days, weeks without touching another person, and reading New Skin is not only erotic imagery for now, but also shocking. It is startling to see so much contact and to be reminded of physical intimacy.
Hosokura’s working method, collage, is also particularly tactile. Even digitally, it requires a separation and then rejoining of otherwise unrelated materials. In her hands, clippings from porn magazines, advertisements, and some of Hosokura’s own photographs, touch. The images touch, the bodies touch, and we touch the lushly tactile pages of the book. Its size, just shy of 12 × 12 inches, is also oddly bodily. It flops in our lap like a baby; we cradle it as we read to keep the pages from flipping too far open. The square shape recalls the Instagram box, but it is also a perfectly symmetrical shape, a perfection not reflected in bodies but ever present in technology.
The title, “New Skin,” is likely meant to reference an emerging subjectivity that reimagines this frail barrier between and marker of bodies, identity, and technology. But after reading and rereading these images, in today’s context, the title also references what our bodies will be after this health crisis, when we will all have to relearn how to relate to each other and how to touch again with our new skin.