“Would you like to share in our artistic vision, sir?” asks a windblown woman in jeans as she offers a small translucent envelope to a tuxedoed man. “Um, maybe on the way out,” he says, hurrying past two mimes on stilts and through the doors of the Corcoran Gallery of Art.
On this blustery Friday night, while the Washington Project for the ArtsCorcoran (WPAC) is holding its Carnivale fundraiser at the museum, Anita Walsh and a small group of volunteers are standing outside distributing Band-Aids. Conceptual-art sheer bandage strips, actually, individually silk-screened by hand to bear rather ponderous philosophical messages: “Face Anger,” “Opt to Listen,” “Honor Differences,” “Salvage Truth,” “Restore Grace,” and “Dissolve Fear.”
“Kids love to wear Band-Aids because they draw attention to pain,” says Walsh, one-third of the trio of local artists who created the strips in an emprise dubbed SKINTalks. Walsh and her project partners, Megan Maher and Katie Morris, devised these arty bandages as a public response to the Sept. 11 attacks, to recognize the invisible wounds that afflict grown-ups.
Working for the first time in the first-aid medium, the artists experimented with the range of available materials. “We tried all kinds of Band-Aids,” recalls Maher. “The fabric kind took the ink better, but we didn’t like the opacity or the color.” They settled on sheer bandages printed Barbara Kruger-style with slogans in green, red, and purple ink. The strips are packaged six to an envelope along with an explanation of the art action, which becomes complete when the recipient applies the bandages to his or her skin.
With a batch of prototypes made, the three planned a guerrilla distribution of their art on D.C. sidewalks. In early January, Walsh presented a few of the pieces to Annie Adjchavanich, acting director for the WPAC, a group that promotes contemporary art in Washington. Adjchavanich offered the artists the opportunity to stage their first formal “happening” (as Maher puts it) outside the WPAC’s Feb. 1 event, where they could reach a more targeted (and philanthropic) audience.
That meant producing 10,000 pieces within three weeks.
The call for volunteers went out over an artists’ e-mail group, and soon more than 70 volunteers were shucking, printing, and repackaging bandages. One woman unwrapped 150 in 15 minutes; another shipped batches back and forth from North Carolina.
Walsh, Maher, and Morris have only rough plans for SKINTalk’s future, focusing now on gaining publicity and attracting funding. (The first run cost them $3,000 of their own money.) But word seems to be spreading already: The trio is producing a print based on the project for inclusion in an upcoming group show at the Corcoran, and Clark Whittington wants to include the strips in his Art-O-Mats—a fleet of refurbished cigarette vending machines that dispense miniature art—in New York’s Whitney Museum of American Art and New Museum of Contemporary Art.
As for the reactions of fundraiser attendees, at least one beneficiary seemed interested: “I’ve never seen art on Band-Aids—well, except for Blue’s Clues and Barbie.” —Shauna Miller