When Our Eyes Touch
Touch is the first sense to develop in the human infant, and it remains perhaps the most emotionally central throughout our lives. It is vital for the emotional and physical health of human beings and other social mammals. To touch and to be touched is to recognise a connection and simultaneously a separation at the margins of oneself; the movement back and forth on the border zone of one’s body. But how to touch and be touched during a global pandemic when physical proximity has become dangerous, potentially lethal?
The title of the first exhibition When our eyes touch derives from Jacques Derrida’s question to Jean-Luc Nancy “When our eyes touch, is it day or is it night?” (1) Derrida wrote, “If two gazes come into contact, the one with the other, the question will always be whether they are stroking or striking each other – and where the difference would lie.” Touch is an entrance to the world of bodies where we expose ourselves to threats as well as open up to the blessings of bodily engagement; the hidden depths we cannot know otherwise. What happens when two gazes meet, not only to see the eye and what is visible but to look into the depth of the other? When our eyes touch, behind masked faces, a gaze may function as affective touch, as a gesture of kindness; a solace. Nancy replied after Derrida had already passed away, “Salut to the vision that did not cling to forms or ideas but that let itself be touched by forces.” (2)
Open in Paris and the neighbouring village of Bazoches-sur-Guyonne, the exhibition When our eyes touch unfolds around the vulnerability of the body and the vitalness of touch.
The first of two parts is hosted in the most intimate of locations; Maison Louis Carré, a private house designed by the Finnish architects Alvar and Elissa Aalto for the renowned Paris gallerist Louis Carré, situated in Bazoches-sur-Guyonne, 40 km south-west of Paris. Simultaneously, the second part of When our eyes touch will be presented in Paris at the Institut finlandais.
At the group exhibition in Maison Louis Carré there is a piece from Kapwani Kiwanga, winner of the Prix Marcel Duchamp 2020. Nations: Cap Francais 20, 21, 22 and 23 June 1793 (2020) examines the relationship between political revolt and spiritual belief. It brings attention to the Haitian revolution and the role of Voudou therein as a spiritual practice materialising the invisible forces within the bodies of the living and in ceremonial objects, such as flags.
A visceral video piece Swallow (2013) by Laure Prouvost is streaming in Olga Carré’s private room. The suggestive flow of images and sounds appearing in a rhythm of inhalation seduces the viewer with intense and luscious sensory stimuli. Young women bathing in a river, a pale pink rose, white clouds on a blue sky, all of which are symbols of beauty and harmony in western culture. Only subtle or momentary estrangements complicate the viewing experience.
Next door, a series of striking self-portraits by Terike Haapoja take up Louis Carré’s room. They emerged from a personal urgency that bypasses discourse. Created during a time of physical and emotional distress, the images reveal moments of desire, mortality, abandonment and agency, objectification and the pull towards becoming an object.
Maija Mustonen and Anna Maria Häkkinen will respond to the current social alienation by creating a performative ceremony rooted in touch and care. The two dance artists have been working with practices of care and intimacy for over ten years in different constellations. The piece will be realised in a video format.
Hans Rosenström will adapt an intimate sound installation A House Divided to the guest room. The work explores the boundaries of one’s own body and how the process of speaking and hearing transgresses those boundaries; moves from the core of one body to the depth of another. The text for the piece was written in collaboration with hypnotherapist Charles Montagu.
In Laurent Millet’s opaque self-portraits a moving body is recorded between spatial and temporal events. His explorations on the link between photography and sculpture allow the body to appear as porous, merging with the physical space while appearing simultaneously as an image.
The delicate photographs and sculptures by Axel Antas evoke a memory of extinct birds and their fragile bodies. Among the birds are for example the Black-faced honeycreeper, declared extinct in 2018, and the Least Vermilion flycatcher, whose last reliable sighting was in 1987.
An eminent collaborative artwork by Etel Adnan and Simone Fattal will be shared with the public for the first time: Five Senses for One Death. A poem in seven pieces. is a series of seven lava sculptures based on Adnan’s poem Five Senses for One Death (1971).
At the Gallery of Institut finlandais in Paris, the subtle photographic and video works of Axel Antas and Laurent Millet explore the physicality of viewing and call to be witnessed with bodily empathy.
Presented in July 2021 at the Great Hall of Institut finlandais will be a newly commissioned work for AISTIT / coming to our senses by Dafna Maimon entitled Leaky Teeth. Known for her subversive narratives and physically engaging settings, Maimon invites the public to discover their bodily intelligence and interdependence.
Maimon develops a vibrant universe using experimental body techniques, luscious materials and absurd humour to immerse the viewer inside the cavities and mysteries of the body. The exhibition consists of a series of drawings, an installation and a video piece on a prehistoric cavewoman, who fantasizes of an alternative course of history for humankind; one in which humans recognise their existence as porous and fluid, and live in a stream of mutual reciprocity with one another and their environments.
1) Derrida, Jacques. On Touching – Jean-Luc Nancy. 2000. Stanford University Press.
2) A tribute by Jean-Luc Nancy written a day after Jacques Derrida’s death. Also published in On Touching – Jean-Luc Nancy.