The Aesthetic of Intimacy
Through May 6 at Goucher College’s Silber Gallery
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Intimate domestic habits usually occur within a private space that exists between partners and spouses, witnessed only by one another. The language of shared space—kisses, morning breakfast routines, bickering—are those elements of a relationship that tend to change in the presence of an audience, becoming polite or affected. The current exhibition at Goucher College, The Aesthetic of Intimacy, invites viewers to examine intimacy sans exhibitionism, makeup, or self-conscious refinement. While the majority of the works focus on couples, the show attempts to shed light on intimacy using a sweeping definition, examining “social, physical, affectional, sexual, emotional, intellectual and spiritual” closeness, according to the catalog.
Intimacy features the work of nine artists in uneven proportions, consisting mainly of two different series of photography and rounded out by video, performative sculpture, painting, drawing, and embroidered underwear. Displayed on facing walls, the photographs set the focal-length limits of our voyeurism. A new series of macro photographs by Washington, D.C.-based artist Jason Horowitz magnifies kissing mouths in profile, while portraits by Ben Gest—a reprise of those he exhibited in Commissure, a solo exhibition at the Contemporary Museum in 2010—offer a more narrative scene.
Horowitz’s prints, with their clean white backgrounds and unapologetic studio lighting, are presented at a 63-inch-by-42-inch scale, stretching the imagery of the body into the language of landscape or monument. The couples’ first names are given in the titles but they remain otherwise anonymous, clipped at the top edge of the nostril and curve of the chin. Each hair follicle, blemish, and string of saliva has definition and texture, the romance associated with the act of kissing overshadowed by an examination of physical coarseness. The most innocent intimacy is, at this scale, grotesque.
Gest’s photographs capture couples in their homes and the physical compromises of close proximity. Couples share beds, kitchens, and small apartments. The figures play off one another within the limits of domestic activity, with clearly differing approaches to shared routines. Each image is made up of many images, digitally smoothed together to enhance the individual personalities and tone of the relationships as they change or are dictated by circumstance.
Recent MICA graduate Ginny Huo approaches the idea of intimacy and relationship from the perspective of chance and absurdity. Her interactive sculptures employ conveyor belts and exercise equipment that force an interaction between gallery visitors. In “I need you for me to walk,” two treadmill conveyor belts on slight inclines meet at their most elevated points to form a small peak. Encouraged to hold hands, participants walk on the belts, holding onto one another for support as the movement sends them backward. Huo’s other piece, “Come Ride With Me,” arranges two simple stationary bicycles on a platform so their riders face one another, encroaching on one another’s personal space, the handle bars extending awkwardly toward one another as they ride. Both pieces can result in either synergy or a choppy discomfort, depending on the two participants and how they work together.
The two video pieces in the show provide the most fanciful depictions of relationships, on opposite ends of the spectrum. “A Life of Errors” showcases the capricious behavior of arguing couples, whimsically depicted by twee Canadian collaborators Nicholas and Sheila Pye. Tensions escalate throughout the 14 minutes of the film, the tone teetering between frustration and nostalgia for a happier past. Unkempt and unsmiling, the couple plays with symbols of trust and manipulation, echoing some of performance artist Marina Abramovic’s collaborative pieces with the artist Ulay. In the film, three rooms create the stage for the unraveling relationship, two bedrooms connected by a middle room with a table and two chairs. The Pyes sleep in separate bedrooms, meeting in the center space for uncomfortable interactions and bizarre (yet visually pleasing) torture, such as being made to jump rope in a circle of fire while blindfolded.
Geoffrey Aldridge’s video is a split-screen diptych of a top view of the artist and his boyfriend in bed and a slow receding pan centered on a disco ball that hangs above the couple’s bed. As the two men toss and turn and rearrange in their sleep, the disco ball casts a shimmer of tiny, revolving lights over them. Eventually, the scene is revealed to be taking place in front of the altar of a church, but it remains a sweet portrait of one couple’s intimacy more than a social critique.
Intimacy curator Laura Amussen highlights the exhibition’s strengths, featuring the photography, video, and sculpture most prominently. Other works, a series of drawings by Jen P. Harris and a single painting by A.B. Miner, add just a whisper to the louder conversation. Sarah Harrington, a senior in her last semester at Goucher, contributes a series of bras and panties embroidered with pick-up lines, puns, and one-liner jokes. Referencing Tracy Emin and the Los Angeles feminist artists of the early 1970s, Harrington’s pieces seem to be studies for a larger, unresolved dialogue. Intimacy is a constantly shifting state. Despite the commonalities between relationships, its minutiae are ephemeral and unique. The show acknowledges that each body of work is a brief pause in an evolving process.