In an age defined by digital spaces and interactions, it may well be that bodies in proximity and physical touch possess an amplified potential for radical experience. Over a period of one week in April at articule we may ponder this notion, as Winnie Ho invites us to hold her hand, a seemingly simple act that will inform her ongoing research on intimacy and collaborative practice. For this project, Conversations with Another While Being, the artist asks strangers to join her within her gallery installation: to lie down on the ground together, listen to music, and hold hands. She envisions the experience as a portal, one designed to magnify bodily sensation and allow intimacy to be felt.
There is a thematic thread of ethereal communication that runs through Ho’s work, with nature often featured as a component. In her performance FurDiaper Ritual for the Living Dead, she became a hybrid creature clad in fur, digging through fallen leaves in a forest on all fours: a very direct communing with nature, tapping into the realm of decay and death. For Treedom, she donned a vestment of leafy branches and became a tree, navigating public spaces and beguiling passersby. These projects suggest a will to interact and experience the world in a way that goes beyond and outside of normalized human behaviour and verbal communication, flora and the outdoors being commonly placed in opposition with our urban socialized selves. Conversation with Another While Being’s installation setup also references a natural setting (a bed of grass, a canopy of leaves) and similarly seems to harness the liberating potential of nature in the interest of arriving at deep communications: within bodies, between bodies, and with the universe at large.
Although Conversations with Another While Being is described as a durational performance, I wonder how Ho’s multifaceted background, which includes dance and studies in science, informs this project. Is it a dance? And why not, it has the traditional elements: a set, music, (very direct) engagement with the public. What kind of movement? Handholding, which may be still but is never entirely static; the negotiation and configuration of fingers, entwined or not, degrees of tension and relaxation. Is it science? It has the characteristics of an experiment: a set of controls, a constructed environment. A hypothesis, that intimacy is always present. An empirical approach to observing intimacy through a range of encounters. A crucible for intimacy.
But really, Conversations with Another While Being is something else altogether, as Ho is working toward the indefinable. The interactions that happen within her portal, the conversations that may occur in silence, are a bid at knowing the unknown. She cites physicist David Bohm’s ideas on this topic, and on dialogue as a process of collective thinking, as pertinent to her practice. What may come of the proximity of strangers’ bodies and minds? Whether time can be transcended, whether perfect strangers can attain a level of connection and nonverbal communication that is normally the purview of close friends and lovers – these questions are up for exploration. For the curious, no written account of the project will do. If we truly want to know, we must dare to be present. Suddenly, the prospect of holding someone’s hand seems so full of potential.
Katerina Pansera is an artist from Montréal. She is particularly interested in the state of contemporary painting and can be heard on Radio CKUT 90.3 FM talking about visual art. She also sometimes writes things. In 2015 she founded the de Gaspé Nanoresidency out of her studio.