Blush (pentaptych) C-type digital prints and aluminium, 2016 Image Credit: Supplied

Syrian artist Sara Naim is interested in exploring the interaction between our interior and exterior physicality and the way we encounter the world through our body.

The Paris-based artist grew up in Dubai, and in her latest show in the city, “When Heartstrings Collapse”, she has used images of her own skin cells to investigate the perception of boundaries and proportion between interior and exterior, microcosm and macrocosm.

Her photographic works and sculptures invite viewers to contemplate the unknown world inside our own body, how it is manifested on the surface, and how it is connected to the world around it.

“The term heartstrings has been used in 15th century non-anatomical literature to describe nerves and tendons that keep the heart in place. People believed that all our emotions are stored in the heart, and that an intensification of the heart’s heat during emotional times causes them to come to the surface and be manifested in physical forms such as a blush, or a shudder. I wanted to explore this relationship between an unfamiliar space inside us, where our emotions are hidden and how they become transparent when raised to the surface of the body. To reflect this tension between inner and outer surfaces, the artworks are named after physical manifestations of emotions, such as ‘Shudder’, ‘Tremble’, ‘Pallor’, ‘Sweat’, ‘Twitch’, ‘Choke’ and ‘Blush’,” Naim says.

To create her photographic artworks, Naim took digital images of her fingertips, which were then transferred into a photographic negative; and to get below the surface she used a scanning electron microscope to take images of dead skin cells collected from her fingertips.

However, the images look quite unfamiliar because she has retained elements such as traces of dust and the colour reference code on the negatives, the lines on the monitor, and screen grabs of a computer glitch that occurred during the scanning of the skin cells, adding texture, colour and new layers to the work.

“I chose the fingertips because that is what connects us to the external world through the sense of touch. The glitches are important because these are unseen processes that occurred while scanning or developing the pictures that are manifested in different ways, just as the unseen processes inside our body are manifested on the surface. We do not know what our body looks like from inside. It is inherent but unfamiliar, and the visible effects of emotions reflect this relationship and this tension between inside and outside. I have included a fun-house mirror in some works so that viewers can see an unfamiliar reflection of their bodies as part of the work,” she says.

Naim’s sinuous, shiny aluminium sculptures also produce distorted reflections of the viewer and everything around them. The floor-based sculptures are supported by high voltage power cables that have been cut, alluding to glitches in the transfer of energy and information between cells in the body and the universe around it.

“I am interested in the surface and the idea of a body as a contained vessel that moves around. But when you look at the cellular level you realise that the skin is not sealed and all space is merged; it is just a difference in densities of matter that leads to the idea of separation or division,” Naim says.

Jyoti Kalsi is an arts-enthusiast based in Dubai.

“When Heartstrings Collapse” will run at The Third Line, Alserkal Avenue, until April 16.