Film ‘PLEASE [DO NOT] TOUCH’, by Jungler
We have long known that knowledge depends on the senses. We are now, however, experiencing a global fascination with the digital, which interposes between our perception and reality, and we argue, is replacing direct contact with the world.
What kind of experience are we going to have if, along with this digital distance, we also reject direct body contact, replacing it with an aseptic, risk-free kind of life? These are some of the questions raised by Inês Norton’s recent exhibition ‘PLEASE [DO NOT] TOUCH’, curated by Adelaide Ginga and Emília Ferreira at the Museu Nacional de Arte Contemporânea do Chiado in Lisbon (6 June – 27 October 2019). The exhibition continued her research on the contemporary tension between the concepts of natural and synthetic; emphasizing the omnipresence of artificiality and the need to question it. Inês Norton reminds us through 18 new artworks of the urgency of regaining full consciousness of our body.
Fig 1: ‘Aseptic Synesthesia’
What would we feel if our hands became alien to our bodies, if they became as industrial and serial as supermarket products, packed and properly protected by latex gloves and wrapped in adherent film, as in ‘Aseptic Synesthesia’?
Fig 2: ‘Induced Mutation’
‘Induced mutation’ asks how technologies may change our physiology and touch practices. It symbolizes a human hand that has had to adapt to its dysfunction by using only thumb and forefinger, the most used digits for touching and activating programs, sending messages or, when used together, increasing or decreasing images or texts to suit our needs.
By reducing touch to the digital and to a certain omnipotence of the gaze, the body is reconfigured, fragmented and disassociated into parts – to mere limbs of amputated bodies. In the pieces ‘Induced mutation’ and ‘Intimate encounter’ (I and II), contact becomes subjugated to the aseptic. Again, we find the power of the digital meddling between us and reality, sanctioning a degree of intimacy. The human is left alone if they only relate at a safe distance and with the mere involvement of their fingertips, to synthetic, digital bodies.
Fig 3: ‘Intimate Encounter II’
Do we want the digital to replace the role of skin and the considerable information that it provides? Do we want the digital (or an algorithm, an app) to simulate the world and tell us what and how we feel? In ‘Intimate Encounter II’, in an enclosed space evoking peepshow booths, an application offers the simulation of touch and the sound it produces. Inês Norton questions the reasons that may lead us to resist the touch of skin, while embracing the touch of synthetic, viscous, digital substances.
Fig 4: ‘Touch Skin’
Fig 5: Ephemeral Sync’
The works ‘Ephemeral Sync’ and ‘Touch Skin’ evoke the need for artificial mediation and explore the cost of avoiding touch at all costs to ask – will superficiality become the rule in relationships? Without the capacity for deeper connections, and with the cult of quick navigation through numerous sources of information, might virtuality take the place of physical experience?
Fig 6: ‘The Skin You Left Behind’
The exhibition closes with ‘The Skin You Left Behind’ – a 10-metre roll of latex in the same rosy-tone that passes through the exhibition. It unfolds before our eyes like a snake that has left its old skin behind.
Photography by David Vidal and João Paulo Serafim