By Sanyee Yuan
Q: Your documentary, The Skin I’m In, tells the story of your personal journey as a recovering alcoholic after you were found passed out in the Berlin subway tracks with your head split open. When and why did you decide to tell this story?
A. I had made other autobiographical video works in the past, some short works. I came out to California after Harvard to go to grad school, where I studied production at USC. Much to the shock of many of my professors and colleagues, I then went on to get a PhD from USC as well. To a lot of those people, critical thinking is completely separate from production. I began to make short works that were on a scale of production that was manageable while writing a dissertation, and I turned to using the technology at my disposal and a subject matter that was on call 24/7: me.
The first such short I made was in 2001, called Things Girls Do, which explores the gendered tropes around eating and body disorders. This was in 2001 in a pre YouTube, pre social media, pre Facebook moment. Since that film, it’s become a daily digital ritual for many to confess and reveal ourselves and to perform online. But all of that is instantaneous, with little retrospection or craft. My hope is to restore a sense of political urgency, critical reflection, artistry and play to acts of digital autobiography, using the self to ask bigger cultural questions.
In this film, I use my own experience getting sober and literally and metaphorically transforming my body through tattooing, to ask some hopefully resonant questions about identity and connection in a globalizing, digital world.