… things that happen to the body,
things that can’t be undone

excerpted from TATEetc > Microtate – reflections on a work from the Tate collection:

Tim Etchells on John Coplans’s Self-Portrait (Torso, Front), 1984

It’s the texture of the skin that summons a number of things. Memory of my grandfather, hooked up to an oxygen cylinder in the front room of the prefab bungalow, Alvaston, near Derby, 1980-something. His hands. Neck. Face. My brother’s hands too, which I always think look older than mine, even though he’s younger. But he’s worked outdoors most of this past twenty years and his hands have lived a different life from mine. Marked.
John Coplan, Self Portrait Torso, 1974
Weathered, where mine stayed pretty much soft – computer keyboard fingers. Despite that, looking at this detail it’s also my own skin that I think of. The realisation I had at age 21 that this skin is not invulnerable – that it can be damaged, changed, altered forever. That was a hospital experience – the skin cut deep then sewn, resulting in a neat scar at the shoulder, albeit some not so neat marks in my mind. And since then, flooding in by association, come a lot of other hospital times, hospital thoughts and surgery scars. That’s not what’s there in the Coplans, of course, but what I get from his looking at his own skin like this, is that confrontation with your own decay, with the body doomed as well as beautiful, with the fact of my own body as a time-marked, changing one. I was at the pool some weeks ago, swimming. Two kids swam by as I stood in the shallow water, and I watched one of them clock the scar down the centre of my chest. I’m thinking of the things that happen to the body, things that can’t be undone.
Sally O’Reilly on John Coplans’s Self-Portrait (Torso, Front), 1984
There is a curious transitional part of the male anatomy that fascinated me as a child. No, it’s not the perineum, which I liken to the week between Christmas and New Year. Neither is it the hairy swatch between the knuckle and first finger hinge. It is the gully where the leg meets the belly, just above the hipbone, which looks for all the world as if it facilitates an oblique twist that brings the leg sticking out at a sick angle with the foot way up above the head.
detail of John Coplan, Self Portrait Torso, 1974
I had forgotten about this fascination until recent research led me to John Coplans’s photograph, where this gully becomes the jowls of a softly mobile, distinctly irritable face. I had forgotten because I had, until recently, maintained an appreciation of bodies that was, while not unsensual, less visually orientated than it might be. Practising amateur psychology on myself, I would say this was to suppress the fact that I was raised by naturists. My stepfather could regularly be found of an evening, stainless steel pint pot full of home brew in hand, displaying his ruddy undercarriage against the dark green living room carpet, like a painter’s exercise in complementary colours. As a consequence of many hours hot and cross in saunas, or bored and confused on nudist beaches, I had put the adult male body to the bottom of the must-see list. On reflection, though, I think this is a real shame and I fully intend to readdress it.
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