Derma Radio, Derek Woods

Derma Radio, Derek Woods


This morning of night without sleep, body of sea I was engaged in a face to face encounter with the sun: such an abundance of light disintegrates the gaze. Skin-sky.

—Nicole Brossard


What follows concerns skin and scopics; looking at, through, and within the body surface. Dermatology in the broadest sense of skin-discourse, and Radiology light discourse, are here entangled. The former multiplies the skin’s visible dimensions, describing its topography, flora, and fauna. This mapping exercise, with systematic ambition, differentiates again and again all the observable details of skin. Its practices presuppose the scopic technologies that find coves and ridges, rifts and channels in skin that could hardly be thought before the prosthetic imaginary. Radiologoi, light words, ray words, present phenomena and technologies that make skin visible; at the same time, they explain X-rays that make it vanish.
Skin discourse makes dense the empirical spaces of derma, then, just as radiology depends on its non-solidity, its ability to become a haze in dark light. Often the biological layers described below are only available for description because of v. expensive light technologies. To include these in the loop of seeing and describing yields consciousness of prosthetic tunnel visions of living surfaces.
Our research visits the cortical archive and its shadows, X-ray institutions, the history of prosthetic visions looking through instead of at. We graft writing from the twenty-first century’s capitalist medical apparatus. But also, half-formed leaves made transparent by the sun, in the spring.
This provisional exploration of the archive of skin and light is limited, with a few exceptions, to biomedical texts. In what follows these texts are paraphrased, summarized, described—thus deformed they become media for prose experiments. Ecphrasis is the technique, if “ecphrasis” can be read in a broad sense: not just the description of a painting or sculpture within a literary form, but as description of texts and things not usually named art: machines, electron micrographs, advertisements. Such forms are remediated below.
The method was suggested by a reading of Don Quixote that describes the novel as follows: the medieval romance, itself a form, becomes the medium for de Cervantes’ novel form. To a degree make this a technique: form-medium-form. Direct quotes are italicized.



Common renderings of the skin show x-sections through its strata. They are called the dermis and the epidermis. Epi means on and the epidermis sits on top of the dermis. The former has several strata, staring with flakes of keratin. Then, made up of different kinds of cells, the stratum corneum on the stratum granulosum on the stratum spinosum on the stratum basale. Together they are one millimetre thick. In textbook images the epidermis looks as though it can just be peeled away, and the dermis layer below has many many knobs that fit into corresponding holes on the “lower” epistratum. Different layers in the textbook drawings—with cartoon colour-coded differentiations, discrete anatomical lines—arrows and labels, look like collections of colourful plastic toys. Unshaded zones of the drawings recall the primary colours and mechanical conjoinders of legos, duplex, and potato heads, and plastic models made by organic chemistry corporations. These layers of the epidermis constantly renew themselves, spreading into different cells then flaking away. And there are spider-like cells shaded dark in the same diagram, embedded in the stratum basale: the melanocytes that colour skin, producing the pigments that absorb light. These cells grow in the neural tube; only after entering a matrix-rich zone termed the ‘migration staging center’ melanocytes migrate along a dorsal-lateral pathway through the mesenchyme to the skin. Beneath the epidermis, networks of veins cross the dermis and sweat glands are drawn as knots with tubes that lead out to the surface or the body’s edge that catches light. Otherwise, being composed primarily of fibrous and amorphous extracellular matrix, the dermis is less cellular and lacks a predicable differentiation. Elastic collagen slackens with age to wrinkle the surface. An electron micrograph of collagen has the gradual spectral shading of all electron imaging, a view of the mesh, piled like cords with gaps between the fibres darkening inwards. Each fibre of the collagen network has smoothed over crosswise ridges. There is also a noise in the image, shreds of loose matter mixed with the collagen, without place or organization. And this description of the skin is incomplete—every account of its differences adds more cell types and processes, so that this passage has the same relationship to skin’s meshwork as the cartoon diagram in Jablonski to the stained cross-sections in Freinkel and Woodley.


Cutaneous Populations

Are classified as “resident” or “transient,” though Noble notes the shortcomings of this approach. An electron micrograph of a “normal” skin in Noble’s text shows a rippling surface, with humps and troughs like the surface of a wave, especially a wave covered with smaller ripples sub undae. Clustered in one of the troughs are white ovals like spider eggs in a small depression of the bark of a tree. They are lighter in the electron image than the rest of the skin surface. Making strange the image near the top of the frame is a rift or crack, which seems out of place. Another image has clusters of coryneforms on a low escarpment, knobs hardly distinguished from their topography of pores. According to Wilson, the most populous human sites for microbial life are: intestines, mouth, vagina and skin, in that order. The same text includes light micrographs in neon blue of transverse sections of healthy rectal mucosas showing a mushroom shaped microcolony that looks like an “artist’s rendering” of a solar flare. And there are diffuse bacteria as well, sparks blurring the edge of the surface of the mucous membrane. In another image (SEM), unnamed bacteria look like balloons or even smoothed-over bark beetles, white again, reflecting more than their habitat (the skin of a human arm). They are of such a scale that the surface of the arm, some region between pores, has a dark grey metallic solidity, crossed by ridges that seem inorganic: cracks in a marble surface. The bacterial colonists cluster like grazing cattle.


Résumé de EMC-Dermatologie Cosmétologie

La gale humaine due à un acarien Sarcoptes scabiei var hominis est une ectoparasitose cosmopolite. In order to identify this animal resident of the epidermis the reporting physicians recommend la microscopie par épiluminescence instead of biopsy, because elle est une méthode non invasive ne nécessitant pas l’intervention du laboratoire.
When skin becomes magnified and less opaque through this non-invasive method, you can see petites structures triangulaires, noires. Epiluminscence involves a source of light, a transparent plate, and a liquid medium between the instrument and the skin. The instrument cancels the light-effect of reflection from the skin, which makes it much more difficult to see small things that burrow in it. Other methods used polarized light, instead, to cancel out the reflection. This must mean that the skin reflects like the surface of a lake—with polarized sunglasses you can see through the water more easily. So these physicians could be paddling along the shore, hoping to find crabs in the shallows. An image in the article shows the small animal itself, mite Sarcoptes scabiei (for which mite we embed a description or zoo-ecphrasis from Louis Georges Neumann’s 1892 study of the parasites of domestic animals: The Sarcopt of scabies…has the body slightly oval, marked by parallel ridges, which are interrupted on the dorsal surface, as far as the sides, by acute conical projections. This surface has, besides, two long needles or spinules on the border of the epistoma; three short and thick spinules, in triangle, on each side, behind the origin of the second pair of legs; seven spinules disposed in four rows, and a chitinous, grained plastron on the cephalothorax, in front of the groups of three spinules. There are two long bristles on each side of the anus. He goes on to describe the morphologies of the Sarcopt of the Goat, of the Pig, of the Horse, &c. in like detail) her body looking near aqueous and indeterminate except for the dark edges of organs and structures, including the black triangles that presumably help her to burrow into the skin with her small intensive eggs.



Wilhelm Roentgen’s  “On a New Kind of Ray” announced the X-rays of the electromagnetic spectrum, and their capacity to make certain matters transparent. The EM spectrum has been the centre of the archive of light, and will be unless other light is found, somehow, between the lines. Furukawa’s Biological Imaging and Sensing represents the spectrum in the early pages, in section 1.1, “A General View of the Electromagnetic Waves That Pass through the Living Body.” Figure 1.1, “The spectrum of light” includes a subset, “light,” to signify the zone of the spectrum visible to human eyes. Other sighted animals cut it up differently. 350-750 nanometers is anthropocentrism. Other representations of the spectrum use images to mark out the different sections: a radio, a microwave, a rainbow, sunglasses (for UV), then the international symbol for radiation, and finally, for gamma rays, skulls or stars—our vulnerable astral participation.


Skin of Thought

Indeed embryology, in its capacity as a recapitulation of developmental history, actually shows us that the central nervous system originates from the ectoderm; the grey matter of the cortex remains derivative of the superficial layer of the organism and may have inherited some of its essential properties.


Scanning Electron Poetics

Take the SEM image of the gear chain and the spider mite: unlike photography or optical microscopy, the SEM does not actually “see” the specimen. It uses a stylus to determine its surface contours without touching it and then translates the resulting information into an image visible to us. The same data could as easily be rendered in a series of numbers, a graph, or a value map. More like a fax machine than an optical camera, the SEM scans its sample in a raster pattern rather than capturing its likeness. Figurality is inevitable for those dealing with phenomena that are accessible only through deanthropomorphizing technologies. Niels Bohr writes that, on the nanoscale, we are suspended in language.


Cortex (II)

Many lichens, Frog Pelt for example, consist of three layers: cortex, algal layer, and medulla. The algal cells interact with the medullary hyphae of the fungus they feed, following patterns of mutualism. Fungi usually live inside what they eat; they are like intestines turned inside out, digesting their food before they absorb it. And most require constant damp; are strictly speaking aquatic life forms. But in the lichen form they inhabit all manner of surfaces, including the harshest ecologies in which any macroscopic life can be found. The algal symbionts usually constant water as well, but with fungal protection stay dry and dormant for long durations. In part this is because of the protection given by the cortex, which contains crystals of calcium oxalate. In Nash and Ahmadjian these crystals become opaque when the lichen is dry, but translucent when wet. The algal cells are then protected when dry and unable to respire, and exposed to the sun when water for photosynthesis is present. Calcium oxalate crystals are strangely angular gems seen at micro scales. They are dust on the surface of the lichen, but seem as though they would cut your finger when amplified to formal relief. Four-sided extended cubes, coming to triangular points at each end.

The URL opens Google’s lead link for the “dermatology institute,” a facility located in Duncanville, Texas. The first image figures a spa-like atmosphere, showing a white towel and a woman’s legs seen from just above the knee. Her two hands rest lightly on her left thigh. The image has a blurred, bright effect, as in many cinematic heavens. These scenes look like the world when your pupils have been dilated for a retinal exam. The model’s light-orange skin seems vaporous and electrified. Other sites for private dermatological clinics look the same, because the skin itself is held in a half-state between earthly flesh and transubstantiation, and completely without pores or marks of organic imperfection. And there are labyrinths of skin sites like this, all with transcendent derma: women’s surfaces changed to light.


The Blanket

In Moby-Dick Ishmael explains that an infinitely thin, transparent substance can be scraped from the unmarred dead body of the whale. [B]eing laid upon the printed page, I have sometimes pleased myself with fancying [the substance] exerted a magnifying influence. At any rate, it is pleasing to read about whales through their own spectacles.


Absorption and Scatter

Which of these fates befalls an x-ray photon depends upon its energy, and the properties of the body tissues through which it travels. Throughout the tissues, absorption is differential. Photons rain on the surface of the body. Rain isn’t the right word because rays don’t fall. They beam in the lines you notice on a rainy day through a hole in the clouds, lines of light, not billowing condensed cloud drops. Wind affects the motion of droplets, but not photons. And more, clouds and rain flow around a spectrum-rainbow without causing it to move. Rays upon outer portions of the skin. Inside and outside are not exact, for skin. Photon interactions with the outer atoms of skin-matter would help us find the edge. It’s where the first excitations happen as photons displace electrons from the “orbits” of organic molecules. These electrons are free to travel but quickly reabsorbed. All interactions between X-rays and matter are probabilistic. The electrons are more likely to be disturbed in denser matter. On the X-ray plate the shadows of the bones are lighter because they are denser. The skin disappears, the skin is transparent fog. The organs may be a slight grey fuzz, on the plate. Sometimes you can see the organs, but for the most part only an animal’s mineral frame may be seen in this region of the spectrum.


No Fur on the Skin of Persuasion

Human skin is a negative image of technological history, presenting our lives with plants and animals. On a billboard you see a model in his underwear. No hair is visible except on his head, where his brown hair is sleek and shoulder length. From this perspective there are no lumps or blemishes. Moles and stray hairs brushed away. He is not muscular but rather thin and adolescent. We don’t need fur because we create the indoors and make clothing from plants and animals or processed oil that used to be plants and animals. The surface of his skin has a gleam that seems a digital effect, or he’s been rubbed with oil. The surface of his body has the slightest topographic variation, near imperceptible skein of dots. Suggestion of pores may be illusory. Openings are hidden by the creative director’s decisions, medical visuals for suasive operation. We see gleaming metallic and digital skin, desiring to be mineral and paradoxically alive. Every fashion couples the living body to the inorganic world. To the living, fashion defends the rights of the corpse. The fetishism that succumbs to the sex appeal of the inorganic is its vital nerve and the parceling out of feminine [sic] beauties into its noteworthy constituents resembles a dissection[.][T]he popular comparisons of bodily parts to alabaster, snow, precious stones, or other (mostly inorganic) formations makes the same point. We can archive these billboards with every courtly effictio praising beautiful faces by turning them to stone.



High definition skin in seconds. NanoblurTM… is a suspension of millions and millions of particles that reflect light perfectly in billions of directions to make the skin surface appear completely flawless. Within seconds, pores begin to disappear. Fine lines appear to vanish. The skin texture appears nearly perfect… It’s free of oil, colour, fragrances and parabens. A full page add in a weekend Globe and Mail shows a flow of circular “particles” of different sizes and shades of orange exiting a tube of paste. Four square colour photographs of white women in the ambiguous zone between the twenties and middle-age are bisected by vertical lines. The lines divide their faces into untreated and treated (in 40 seconds) segments, because nanoblur was applied on one side of the face for comparison to the untreated side. The candidates were not wearing makeup and no special lighting was used. Looking closely at the details of their facial skin, the eighth-moon waves under the their eyes, the arched rolls from the dimples of their unbiased smiles, and the patchworks of freckles and pores the difference between the faces is not apparent. And it’s Not Just for Women! Toward the bottom of the page a v. attractive man’s face in black and white—in a separate, orange-outlined box—actually does appear appreciably smoother on the treated side. Unlike the women, his teeth are showing. That’s why Nanoblur is also popular with men. Moreover, There’s no gimmick. In fact, we encourage you to try Nanoblur on one hand and compare it with the other hand at your local pharmacy. You won’t believe your eyes. We don’t learn how particles blur the light.



Like a ravelled skeyn of silk, so entangled and perplexed. The leaves of plants have strata of cells and pores like those of animal skin and the lichen body. In the spring, when the leaves are just emerging and translucent. No waxy layer thickens them to make them look as they do late in the summer, solidified, casting shadows. Oak leaves do it, near yellow after budbreak, close to the colour of pannicles of maple flowers. Conifers never have such a thin weave, but leaves of pine gleam and scatter, through some extra fibre in the surface. Ovate cherry’s toothed folia droop an electric net. Then the vulnerable weft from the bud, in the spring, disappearing skin // abstract spark, the skein of green and yellow and the weave // as outdrawn from trunks and branches // leaves in arboreal negative. Saturate stroma and lumen, with the spinning machines that sift carbon from wave patterns. Through flexion of leaf and sun, green’s unripe a colour but elemental.


Animating Wrinkles by Example on Non-Skinned Cloth

Universidad Rey Juan Carlos, Madrid. The simulation of cloth with rich folds and wrinkles is a computationally expensive process. In this paper, we introduce an example-based algorithm for fast animation of plausible cloth wrinkles. Our algorithm does not depend on a character’s pose, therefore it is valid for loose dresses, curtains, etc., not just cloth defined by skinning techniques. Central to our approach is a correspondence between low- and high-resolution cloth deformations, both at the training and synthesis stages. Based on this correspondence, we define an algorithm for synthesizing cloth wrinkles as a function of the deformation of a low-resolution cloth and a set of example poses. We demonstrate the animation of plausible high-resolution wrinkles at high frame rates, suitable for interactive applications such as video games.