Salmon Skin Light (2015)
Circular: 9" dia. x 3"; Voronoi: 9.5" x 10.5" x 2.5"
Tanned salmon skin, lasercut plywood, LEDs, diffusion film, power supply
These light sculptures continue investigations of combining unusual natural materials with light. The surface is unreadable at first, its texture strangely animal. The form is lasercut wood, left rough and burnt. The light source comes from LEDs, which we associate with sharp and hi-tech, but here the materials are organic, rough, and mysterious.
The surface is in fact salmon skin, tanned to be translucent yet tough. The skins are recycled castoffs from the fishing industry. They are treated with a traditional Inuit technique using human urine as a tanning agent to make them rigid and odorless, scraped to be thin yet still strong.
When all mammals break down amino acids, we produce ammonia. Ammonia is a solvent that can clean surfaces, break down oils, and stop decay in organic matter. It is also toxic, which is why our bodies convert it into urea and salts, which we excrete in urine. However, when stored without oxygen, these bind together to form ammonia again. Indigenous people have used this technique for centuries for tanning.