An array of technologies and economic systems have led to rapid globalization, causing our world to cave in on itself. While technology has allowed us to create and share knowledge about our communities and families with one another, this more intimate understanding of each others’ points of view also leaves more room for disagreement, resulting in more frenetic energy than perhaps ever before in those small gaps between us that remain. Perhaps it is merely the fact that we are now able to document all kinds of chaotic events and share them with others in ways that were not possible until very recently. Smartphones, social media, and a 24 hour news cycle have made people hyper aware of what everyone is doing every moment around the globe. However, this method of sharing the entropy of our communities — be they global events, altercations on the street, or even personal meltdowns online — often results in more disarray. Isn’t that what intimacy is? The closer one becomes to someone, or something, the space between chaotic agents tightens. Thus, our relationships to each other are mediated through amplified mad, fevered energy.
Take Alex Y. Lee’s Self Portrait (Pants) (2019). A pair of paper origami folded pants, 39 inches tall, semi-squats over top of a pile of red origami dice. The brown pants are quite angular except in two places: the feet and the crotch. Unlike pants one might wear, the triangular knee, bent to reveal an origami vagina, tapers down to show just the tiniest bit of a wooden dowel ankle, which expands into crinkled, dry feet. The hundreds of small red dice, each one about the size of a thumbnail, have scattered onto the sculpture’s feet. We are witnessing the aftermath of a very lucky birth. The dice that seems to have fallen out of the vaginal opening are signifiers of luck and chance — but as any gambler knows, one’s luck can go either way. We do not choose the bodies into which we are born. Race, gender, ability/disability, and illness are not up to us, and the only reason we may consider having one body over another as “luck” is due to thousands of years of working ideology that dictates one body better than another. Having a wholly understanding and completely forgiving relationship with one’s body is not easy as we believe we should be able to control them (they are ours) but, really, what happens to them is completely out of our control. The fact that the body is so susceptible to the chaotic events of physical life means there will always be a small mental space between us and our bodies.
Yuxuan Li expands on the idea of intimacy as proximity, not full-on amalgamation. We anticipate proximity, physical and mental, between subjects when one knows another well. Conversation in the Hidden Spaces Series (2019), demonstrates how the small spaces between intimately acquainted people ultimately lead to miscommunications. Conversation in the Hidden Spaces 5 is a crumpled canvas about a foot high and a foot long, with blue and beige stains of oil paint tinting the usually grey cloth. The outline of the brown frame ghosts into appearance, revealing to the viewer that it alone is holding the perfectly crumpled canvas in place. On top of the blots are traces of vinyl Chinese characters: some only partially present, and some we only know of by the shadow left behind in the vinyl’s absence. The evidence of a conversation lingers; we conjure the echoes of a conversation when we reflect on a past moment with someone. Like the canvas, our memories of conversation are tainted with emotion: there is no way for us to recall memories objectively! Intimacy must involve a level of disorder because there is a necessary space between subjects in order for intimacy to exist.
How do we signal and identify intimacy? Peichuan Jacob Ji’s print Untitled (2019), shows us how. In the 3×4 foot digital print, two young men do not embrace, but they are indeed occupying a space as a couple. The taller man stands in the back, his face slightly less in focus than the man in the front, their tilted heads blending into one another. Ji seems to be toying with where the line between intimacy and amalgamation occurs. The foggy, dreamy photograph blends the men’s bodies into one amorphous outline in a nebulous, nowhere space. Perhaps we have an innate understanding of intimacy. The moves we make to physicalize a yearning for togetherness come from the need and want inside of us. Recognizable acts of affection are borne of a longing that has no temporal binds.
Jordan Hartney’s installation work Zarre-Biome (2020), visualizes the often-invisible connections and dependencies present within an ecosystem. Though some may see Hartney’s work as “futuristic,” themes of biomimicry and cyborg-ness are recognizably contemporary. The installation of steel, wire, fibers, and opal demonstrates the necessity of the connection between bodies, be they human, animal, plant, or machine. There are five central figures in the installation, connected by a three-dimensional red, blue, purple, and pink web, indicating that these figures depend on one another. Wikipedia defines a biome as a “community of plants and animals that have common characteristics for the environment in which they exist.” The Zarre-Biome shows how animal, plant, human, and technological bodies begin to resemble each other when in a shared environment. Is this not a sign of intimacy? When we grow close to someone, we share their situation and become interested in the same music, podcasts, fashion, food, and other pastimes that create a shared knowledge in the relationship. Sharing an environment with plants, animals, and technology makes us interdependent due to sheer proximity, thus resulting in a cyborgian intimacy with everything around us.
On the topic of technology and intimacy, I must conjure Sam Soon’s work google translate reads a letter to my birth mother from 2019. Soon does not explore our intimate relationship with technology, but how technology acts as a tool to aid (or impair) close relationships. The video shows a young Asian child, perhaps two or three years old, making a finger painting with a White adult, about forty or fifty years old. The video focuses on the child dipping their hands into a bowl of paint while looking to the adult for guidance and approval. The audio of the video, already deliberately distorted, continues to degrade to the point of complete incoherence. This process of degradation over time is no doubt tied to the fragmentation of memory that occurs to the family archive over a generation. As the world has become more accessible, family members have drifted all over the globe, depending on technology to communicate. As in Li’s piece, Soon demonstrates how part of intimacy is the confusion and entropy that looms in the spaces — technological, physical, mental, and otherwise — between not only people but generations.
There is another intimate relationship we have not yet discussed: the relationship between subject and state. Arleene Correa Valencia’s Censored series manifests the various contradictory power dynamics that are present in all intimate relations. By censoring the pixelated 11×15 inch images, the artist prods at dynamics of visibility and invisibility, powerful and powerless within the state-subject relationship. These dynamics are also present in the relationship between the beholder and the beheld. There are power dynamics in every intimate relationship, be they romantic, platonic, familial, bodily, and otherwise. Intimacy, in all its forms, is a tug of war. The Censored series is a departure from Correa Valencia’s earlier work of figurative paintings of immigrant laborers. These paintings honored and commemorated the immigrant labor in wealthy communities, specifically Napa Valley Wine Country, where Correa Valencia grew up undocumented. While the artist showed viewers quite plainly the subject she was bringing to our attention, this body blocks the viewer from access to any information — aesthetic and theoretic. In this series, however, it seems almost as if these pixels might be easier read from a distance. This rejection of the entitled relationship between viewer and beholder is a reminder to us to check our own desires for and of others, asking why we may feel entitled to another person or their labor and image for any reason.
Hoi Chang invented the term nuggang to express a sigh, or an exhale that results from frustration or failure. The neologism is used to express a sentiment that is otherwise unnameable, though not unknowable — much like why one is motivated to act out signifiers of intimacy. Nuggang 8 and bubble (nuggang) 27 (2019) are both rhizomatic ceramic creatures with brightly colored glazes that animate the entity’s bumps and fissures. The cube-ish shape and size of Chang’s sculptures give the viewer an immediate sense of fondness for the sculptures. Likely because they are the size of a house pet. Be steel (2019), another nuggang shaped sculpture, is elevated on a 4.5 ft steel plinth with a mirror holding the work up to the viewer. While Chang displays other nuggang works on the ground, this creature is brought up to the viewer to inspect at eye level, though the sharp edges and bright colors are the natural signs that something is no-touch. This inexplicable and immediate intimacy with objects that Chang brings to our attention is a game of recognizing an expression in the object that one cannot express in words, and never knowing if one’s interpretation is true to the artist’s inception of the object.
Nobody loves indescribable phenomena like Santino Gonzales. Orion in Spring (2019) explores themes of the family and the familiar, immigration, and the alien. An old Orion brand television sits on top of a black milk crate. On the screen are two children: the younger one in front has a bowl cut, and the one holding him from behind is wearing a blue ball cap and looking off-screen. The younger one is looking straight into the camera, returning the viewer’s gaze. The television is flanked by an open briefcase on the right, and an antenna dish on the left. Gonzales squeezes a tower made of a small television set, a boombox, and a Language Master on top between the antenna and the Orion monitor. Gonazles’ practice investigates the science of the natural and the mysticism of the supernatural by scrutinizing large-scale communication technologies, and the metaphor (and reality) of the extra-terrestrial being. The two children seem to be related. Twins and siblings can represent the Uncanny in art, as one sibling represents the original, and the other the eerie or unearthly replica. The uncanny is a psychological experience of something strangely familiar, as opposed to something merely mysterious. The Orion television is an allusion to the namesake constellation, one of the most conspicuous and recognizable in the night sky. Orion himself is also ubiquitous and mysterious: many cultures have similar stories of a hunter from the underworld with various spellings of Orion, but no poet has standardized the legend.1 By bringing technologies of mass communication into conversation with widespread myths and familial narratives, Gonzales reminds us that all stories are histories, and all stories of the future have already been told.
Our universe seems to have begun the phases of retreating, meaning those tiny emotional, mental, and physical spaces between us will only become smaller. We will continue to learn even more than we do about cultures and communities that are not our own, and hear versions of history we have not yet heard. What is the intimacy of the future? It is a relationship where one can find san(ct)ity in every outcome of any situation. To have intimacies of the future, one must welcome any result or upshot of a circumstance, possible and impossible, as every relationship we have is a chain of accidents that have already happened in some other pocket of the universe.
1 H. J. Rose(1928). A Handbook of Greek Mythology, pp. 115–117. London and New York: Routledge, 1991