Obscure Functions: Experiments in Decolonizing Melanin
September 7, Jes Fan will begin work on Obscure Functions: Experiments in Decolonizing Melanin, a project that will investigate the material agency of melanin, the natural pigment that determines skin color, and the implications of its usage outside of the body.
Combining original video work, a central sculpture, and a series of laboratory gloveboxes stationed throughout Recess, Fan’s project will invite visitors to physically manipulate melanin and explore the substance as a sculptural material and coating agent.
Throughout his Session, Fan will research the radioactive properties of melanin which the artist will source from genetically modified e-coli bacteria and fungi. When harvested commercially, this banal black powder, embedded with a cascade of social meanings, is sold at a market price of over $300 a gram, and experimented with as an anti-radioactive coating for spacecrafts. It lives in fungi, in mold, in cephalopod ink— but once embodied by human skin, this pigment siphons the host to a social organizing principle that is known as race.
At Recess, the host for melanin will not be human but bacteria, a perceived adversarial substance that shares connotations with racist notions that non-white bodies are infectious and impure, of miscegenation as a dangerous contamination, and broader anxieties of racial intimacy. Obscure Functions will consider skin as a medium of “touching” and “feeling,” and the ways both are implicated in the construction of race. Feeling, even when triggered at a distance—by sight, ear, memory, or smell— becomes embodied and expressed through the skin. Fan’s project lays bare the ways in which the lives of racialized bodies are touched by melanin.
On view: November 11, 2023–January 25, 2024
Marcela Torres and Assembly
September 14–November 10, 2023
KING COBRA and Hue Hallums