Leah Appleton
9/30/10 11:09AM

Bodies, especially female bodies, most especially young female bodies, exist under a tremendous amount of pressure. Physical, cultural, parental, religious, commercial, sexual, stylistic, and every combination of these that can be imagined. Even some that can’t. Often this pressure is invisible, hence the grave importance of visualizing it, as Leah Appleton has done in a series of simple yet profoundly affecting and discomfiting video works that she performs on her own body parts. In “Neck,” she tightens a cord around her windpipe, creasing the skin and moving closer and closer toward asphyxiation, before finally releasing her grip and leaving a red ring in its place. In “Torso/Skin,” she tightly winds black gorilla tape around her mid section, compromising her breathing; when she peels the tape back off, her lungs are relieved but her skin is left sore and red. In the diptych “Wax,” one half shows her pouring hot wax down her back; the other half reveals it being cracked off, again a relief with damaged skin underneath. The confusion here between S&M and standard beautification procedures—dungeon costume versus corset; hot wax on the nipples versus hot wax on the legs—is a meaningful one. On a consensual level, Appleton needs to be doing this to herself. This is key in S&M play too. But on a symbolic level, in terms of wider cultural relevance, this can be limiting since what is done to our bodies—even by those who cut or starve themselves—is not strictly consensual, not even close.

—Lori Waxman
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