@flesh_effect’s subversive, sometimes gross-out feed is not for the squeamish
What is the correct response to an image? In the case of the Instagram account @flesh_effect, a lot of the imagery featured on their grid gives the viewer that strange existential, grossed-out feeling that makes them want to instantly look away, while simultaneously not allowing them to divert their gaze.
“I’m just trying to find ways of articulating how I experience my own mortality,” says Marisa Zuk, a glass blowing, neon, and welding teacher from Oakland, CA of her feed. “Finding visceral expressions of my psychological states helps me step outside of them and become the clinical observer.”
It’s a lot to take from an Instagram account if you’re even the slightest bit squeamish or terrified of your own place on this doomed mortal coil. “Flesh fascinates me because it functions as a sentient material – it feels, responds, has memory – and is infinitely complex with its tissue layers and cellular structures. I think a lot about the body in pain, and pain being defined as the potential for tissue damage.”
From see-through bodies of cold-blooded creatures, to blue gloop dribbling across hairy skin, to knee joints frozen in solid perspex, engaging with this range of flesh proffers a strangely reactionary experience, especially when my feed is usually populated by videos of fashion posters being plastered over each other in Paris. @flesh_effect makes you want to look away, it makes your stomach squish into a ball, it makes you momentarily consider your body as flesh – as a site for pain and pleasure – and reminds you that your flesh isn’t the only living, responding flesh around us. It makes you feel this until you scroll past and start to feel better again. It’s confrontational, but not because it’s violent or sexy – it’s flesh.
“Creating a framework around flesh is intentionally dehumanising,” Marisa explains. “I try to instil more of a reptilian sensibility, in that it appeals to a more primitive part of the brain that is more receptive to tactile sensation and detached from identities. I’m constantly collecting visuals that have a maximum visceral impact and use them when they feel aligned with what I’m experiencing at a particular moment.”
On the responsibility she has in showing flesh, and making a viewer feel this way, Marisa says: “I find myself alternating through different positions of gaze, power, and agency in relation to flesh. Cycling from a position looking onto a human figure distorted by design to hands engaging with objects or other varieties of fleshy material, and the flesh and bodies of cold-blooded creatures. Struggle and escape, sentience and violence are at the conceptual axis.”
It’s a worthwhile archive of images which achieves more than just being freaky for freaky’s sake. It’s exposure to challenging images lots of us would never seek out, which add a helpful dose of mortality to an often dead feed.