For the fifth day of the Project Space Festival Berlin, DISPLAY presented an exhibition featuring two collaborative works comprising video, dance, music and performance. ‘INDEX’ explores the translations, and inevitable mistranslations, that manifest between language and its different modes of expression: the varied and sometimes incongruous, out-of-sync means through which communication is initiated and received. Positioning the body as mediating interface, the exhibition illuminates diverse experiences of sharing, collaboration and exchange.
A recent video work by Christine Sun Kim and Thomas Mader, ‘Classified Digits’ presents a direct, frontal view of Kim—a native American Sign Language (ASL) speaker—against a neutral background, as Mader—an ASL learner—stands behind and acts as her arms. Mader engages in a series of communicative gestures while Kim’s actual arms remain folded behind her back, all expression isolated to that of her face. An overlaid text introduces the set-up for each segment of the video, locating the impetus for changes in expression and gesture within familiar, awkward moments of social interaction. In a collaborative effort to initiate communication, the composite body of Kim and Mader explores the nuanced ways in which people navigate common, though at times difficult to negotiate, everyday encounters.
In a small back room that features a kitchen, Carrie McIlwain and Johanna Ackva engaged in an instalment of their on-going performance project, ‘Women and Watery Men’, in which they simultaneously converse, eat and bathe together. Incorporating the audience in this otherwise intimate space and activity, McIlwain and Ackva carried on a fluid discussion, turning at times to the topic of fluids—both bodily and food-based—to trace different processes of the body, its modes of interaction, and the ways such processes are described. Within this space of contemplating the body’s permeability, distinctions between private and public, interior and exterior, spectator and participant, became diluted.
Referencing the similarities between the scent of cheeses and that of sweaty bodies, McIlwain and Ackva articulated the experience of the sense of smell through the different associations that it can bring to mind, linking a disagreeable aspect of the body’s processes to the pleasurable one of consuming cheese: in the process, illustrating the ways that elements of the external environment become internalized, and vice versa. Over the course of the performance, McIlwain and Ackva’s dialogue and actions delved into hygiene practices and feelings of shame tied to the body—particularly the female body—as they ate the cheeses and fruit from the spread laid over the tub, inviting the audience to indulge as well. The ways in which spaces are occupied by bodies, and in which bodies occupy spaces—physical space as well as that of thought and speech—were presented, dissected, and reflected upon through both personal and collective forms of expression.
The exhibition’s themes manifested as well in its display and the positioning of the opening night performance. Projected onto a floating screen, Kim and Mader’s video materialized a semi-partition between the street-facing front space and a darkened passage leading to McIlwain and Ackva’s performance in the smaller back room, pushed further into the building’s interior. In this intimate space, the mixed atmosphere of a kitchen and that of the private realm of the bathroom served to make such boundaries apparent, while demonstrating their permeable, soluble nature.