The skin shapes our bodies, creates our image and gives us an identity. The skin is what constitutes ourselves as individuals. When we think of a body, we explicitly imagine its epidermal surface. As the monk William of Baskerville exclaims in the novel The Name of the Rose by Umberto Eco: Mankind would shudder at the sight of a body if they could see what is beneath the skin. Skin has the power to shape our physique and identity, yet it furthermore encapsulates physical sensations that are often beyond our control: pain, irritation, shudders, heat sensitivity and erotic pleasure. The epidermal surface withholds the most archaic and animal-like sensations to humankind. Hapticality has the ability to amalgamate human and non-human agents.
In Glass Bead’s article The City Wears Us, the media theorist Benjamin Bratton asserts that “Any surface is potentially also a skin and its sensitivity is open to design”. Following the vast development and use of synthetic vision and audition, hapticality is the new territory on which automation has presently started to operate in. An infusion consisting of artificial skin and synthetic hapticality is to be expected in the near future. Envision automated skin stripped from an individual body, emerging as an ‘expanded body’. Such formations bring about unexplored concerns that touch on the correlation between humans and machines.
Touch is an immediate sensation: we learn how to touch prior to engaging with sight or sound. We negotiate our subjectivity with the environment through skin and it is thus the grounding of any aesthetic experience. “Goose bumps were the first aesthetic image”, the philosopher Theodor W. Adorno concludes in Aesthetic Theory. As the relation between humans and machines move away from a purely functional matter and alternatively become increasingly intimate, the innermost strata of our subjectivity are shaped and called into question.