Like a Body Without Skin

Fiona Amundsen's exhibition Like a Body Without Skin is an exhibition that brings together archival imagery with present-day photographing/filming of Carrie Furnace, a former blast furnace in Rankin, Pittsburgh.  

In the early 1980s German artists Hilla and Bernd Becher, as part of their on going documentation of declining industries, photographed extensively in Pennsylvania, particularly the many blast furnaces and other steel related industries that lined Pittsburgh’s river ways. They described the blast furnace as “like a body without skin. Its insides are visible from the outside; organs, arteries and skeleton creates its form”. Taking part of the Becher’s description as its title, this exhibition addresses the relationships between steel manufacturing industries and their mobilisation into a united national front that produced everything from planes to bombs during WWII. The focus here concerns not so much the role steel manufacturing has in America’s WWII ideologically driven narratives, but rather how these manifest in the present, meaning how the remnants of these industries might operate as a form of memorial to a historical past that is still lived today. Accordingly, Like a Body Without Skin brings together archival imagery with present-day photographing/filming of Carrie Furnace, a former blast furnace in Rankin, Pittsburgh. The residues of this site are positioned with a voice recording that describes the affects of the 1945 WWII incendiary-bombing of Tokyo, where civilians were reduced to ‘bodies without skin’ due to the intensity of fire produced from the steel clad cluster munitions. These remnants⎯of both the site of Carrie Furnace and the recorded narrative⎯work together to stutter sanctioned historical, ideological and political discourses associated with how the Asia Pacific Theatre of WWII is memorialised, remembered, narrated and imaged. 

This exhibition also explores documentary practice itself, particularly how lens-based artworks can visualise the nuanced complexities of this specific layered history. These artworks focus on the potential slippages between images and their meanings, between images and culturally embedded events, between what can be seen and what can be said. This raises questions concerning how to become present to this history, to what it holds, to what it can teach of the ways the residues of historical acts hide within the present. Ultimately this exhibition asks its viewers to listen and “to look in to images to see that of which they are survivors. So that history, liberated from the pure past (that absolute, that abstraction), might help us to open the present of time”. In effect by bringing together the site of Carrie Furnace with WWII traumas, Like a Body Without Skin grapples with how to visualise not only different versions of established histories, but also to imagine potential futures that essentially challenge the continued presence of what remains an unresolved yet defining past.

Like a Body Without Skin opens on December 4 and will be on display through March 31.