Synecdoche (1991-present) by Byron Kim


My initial impulse for Skin Tags was to survey the skin tones represented in Vogue, an iconic fashion magazine. I use a hole punch (5mm and 7mm) to take samples. The parameters for taking samples are to take one sample from each person represented in the magazine. The samples come from only colour images and must have an area of skin large enough to fit the diameter of the hole punch. Subsequent surveys involve the use of a template to draw half inch circles from the skin, which are then cut out with scissors. The small circles are then glued onto a sheet of machine made rag paper in a grid format.

There is a connection to Byron Kim’s Synecdoche, which is an ongoing project begun in 1991. He steps out of his studio and asks passerby (as well as family and friends) to allow him to paint an 8×10 inch portrait of the their skin tone. “Synecdoche” refers to a figure of speech in which a part is used for the whole. Here Kim takes a fragment, a person’s skin colour, and allows it to stand in as a signifier for the whole person. He also says the “whole piece represents all of us in a way” (Kim). Synecdoche however, does not represent all of global humanity. It represents a sample of people from a particular location (the environment around his studio and those within his circle of contacts) as does Skin Tags (women, and men, selected to represent a particular standard of beauty in the US). Both works reduce a person to a colour that stands in for race.

In the case of Skin Tags, the gridded clinical assessment aims to render Whiteness “strange,” to give it a peculiarity that might otherwise go unnoticed (Dyer 4). In fact the removal of the samples from their original context, and the separation of Kim’s coloured panels from people offers new questions (although he does provide an alphabetical listing names). Are all the lighter skin tones from Whites? Where does White end and non-White begin?

– – – – –

Works Cited & Consulted

Berger, Maurice, Wendy Ewald, David R. Roediger, and Patricia J. Williams. White: Whiteness and Race in Contemporary Art. Baltimore, MD: Center for Art and Visual Culture, University of Maryland Baltimore County, 2004. Print.

C Way. “Art of the Day: Stills from Paul McCarthy & Mike Kelley’s “Heidi: Midlife Crisis Trauma Center and Negative Media-Engram Abreaction Release Zone” (1992).” Web log post. Snailcrow. 11 Dec. 2011. Web. 12 Jan. 2012.

Dyer, Richard. White. London: Routledge, 1997. Print.

Ewald, Wendy. American Alphabets. Zurich: Scalo, 2005. OpenDemocracy. Open Democracy, 13 Mar. 2006. Web. 11 Jan. 2012.

Gustafson, Diana L. “White on Whiteness: Becoming Radicalized about Race.” Nursing Inquiry 14.2 (2007): 153-61. EBSCO. Web. 14 Nov. 2011.

Heidi: Midlife Crisis Trauma Center and Negative Media-Engram Abreaction Release Zone (1992) by Mike Kelley and Paul McCarthy
Links to stills from film:

Hyde, Katherine. “Portraits and Collaborations: A Reflection on the Work of Wendy Ewald.” Visual Studies 20.2 (2005): 172-90. Harvard Faculty of Arts and Sciences. Harvard University. Web. 13 Jan. 2012.

Kim, Byron. “Audio, Byron Kim, Synecdoche, 1991-present.” Edited Interview. Audio post. MoMA Multimedia. MoMA, New York. Web. 11 Jan. 2012.

Lund, Darren E., and Paul R. Carr. “Exposing Privilege and Racism in ‘The Great White North: Tackling Whiteness and Identity Issues in Canadian Education’.” Multicultural Perspectives 12.4 (2010): 229-34. EBSCO. Web. 14 Nov. 2011.

Marien, Mary Warner. Photography: a Cultural History. Upper Saddle River ( N.J): Pearson Prentice Hall, 2006. Print.

McIntosh, Peggy. White Privilege and Male Privilege: A Personal Account of Coming to See Correspondences through Work in Women’s Studies. Wellesley, MA: Wellesley College, Center for Research on Women, 1988. Print.

Minh-Ha, Trinh T. “Questions of Images and Politics” (1986). Art and Feminism. Eds., Helena

“Paul McCarthy & Mike Kelley – Heidi (1992).” Web log post. Art Torrents. 7 Mar. 2008. Web. 15 Jan. 2011.

Reckitt, and Peggy Phelan. New York, NY: Phaidon Press, 2001.

Rogoff, Irit. Terra Infirma: Geography’s Visual Culture. London: Routledge, 2000. Print.