Kisses Sweeter Than Wine is a video, first and foremost. A video-document that captures a performance by Öyvind Fahlström, produced during the 9 Evenings: Theatre and Engineering of 1966 and that was to serve as an anchorage point for this group exhibition curated by Matt Packer. Between the threat of nuclear annihilation and cosmic humour, Fahlström was denouncing the complacent connections between technology and military power, countering the technicist utopia of the mid-sixties. The context has now obviously changed, but the concerns remain strikingly similar: the Promethean myth of a body-machine alliance is relevant today more than ever. Drawing together algorithms, amazing calculators, telluric bodies, and opaque ceremonies, the visitor is invited to navigate amidst an array of flesh and electrical wiring. Always partway between satire and communal elevation, this opera with its sometimes-grotesque aesthetic was to provide the plastic and conceptual repertoire of the exhibition. From Haraway’s Cyborg Manifesto to the data-cum left behind each visit to a pornographic website, the body-machine metamorphosis is both powerfully fantastical and contemporary. This is the disarming observation that Kisses Sweeter Than Wine seems to make.
As a preliminary, a series of documents referring to the film Dyonisus in 69, which closely tracks the Performance Group, a troupe from a theatre in Greenwich Village adapting Euripides’ The Bacchae. In this performance, bodies with disarticulated members are assembled and combined in a compact mass. Arms form nodes and jut out, overlapping and contorting as one, as though possessed. Might they become the thurifers of bodies, surpassing their limits? This is 1969, and the young Brian de Palma makes a documentary about it. A static camera is honed on the stage and the energy of an enthralled audience is palpable. The rigidity of the filming meets the fervour of the bodies. In some sense, it’s like Dan Graham interfering with Carolee Schneemann’s Meat Joy: a fertile quarrel. Later, we will find this same taste for frenzied Mannerism, physicality and bloodthirsty impulses in the creator of Carrie and Phantom of the Paradise.
From sixties palpitations, we move on to the pulsations of Ciarán Ó Dochartaigh who performed around a seemingly enigmatic operating table. The lines of electrical circuits are drawn on the surface of a polished synthetic table. Exit points, a network of alleyways, and sensations of input and output form a strange tale in which spying and erogenous zones, surveillance and confinement, inductions and abandonments coagulate. The explicit intertitles supporting these nerve endings complete the ambivalence of the sexual charge. Added to this are objects with pins, riff-raff, and curved forms filling gaping holes: in short, a smorgasbord in the form of a Youporn Holy Trinity. This analogue table is connected to overhead projectors, discoidal modules, like the persistent subtext of a restrained gay night out clubbing. The signal has difficulty getting through; intermittent beats punctuate the brief appearances of a building with fluid architecture. We learn that it is located in Saudi Arabia. Triumphant, utterly phallic, its authoritarian gaze does not authorise the fluidity of genders, desires, and identities. Susan Sontag’s erotics of form meet the ayatollahs of cyberporn.
To the placidity of bodies responds the anthropomorphic video installation by Melanie Bonajo. Goddess, island-dwelling whore, orchid, she stages herself, offering her body on demand. A gift that here assumes the form of absolute hospitality: for the gaze of men primarily, then for their inclinations, and finally, for the earth. She assents to their procrastination candidly, without miserabilism, but with a fierce desire to have a powerful impact, to produce an action with her body. Mother nature: the pussy becomes a pressure point for emancipation. Annie Sprinkle is never far away, nor is Valie Export for that matter. As Bonajo exposes herself to the gaze, mutating into a hyper-sexualised Pythia, now queer, now butch, the politics of care pass via the inner thigh, via peer-to-peer, via patriarchy. Then the shadow of doubt is cast on Amazonian activism. The pivotal role fantasised by Bonajo between the realms of plants, humanity, and the divine is no longer so certain. The chain has been broken. It is perhaps when humanity is pushed into its furthest corporeal reaches, when it borders on a form of autism, that it is best paired with technology, in the manner of Jedediah Buxton, the unrivalled calculator played by Rauschenberg in the film Kisses Sweeter Than Wine. Where does the conversion take place? The incompressible conversion that transfigures human into machine? Between milk and wine as Barthes would say; through the ass Bonajo would reply. That might be what she wanted to say. That was how I understood it.