Open Studio | Raphaela Melsohn
Raphaela Melsohn’s Collection of Gestures (2018) is a site-specific video installation created for her AnnexB’s artist residency, which took place in May 2018. The work is part of Melsohn’s on-going exploration at defying gender disparities and the ways in which “sex” and “sexuality” have been constructed in our societies.
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Towards a Dildo-Imagination: Raphaela Melsohn’s Collection of Gestures
Text by Tatiane Schilaro
Dildotectonics is the experimental contra-science dedicated to the study of the birth, formation and uses of the dildo. Here the term dildo designates all kinds of technologies of gender and sex that resist the normative production of the body and its pleasures.
Paul B. Preciado
In Collection of Gestures, visitors enter AnnexB’s studio space, which is covered by a foam floor. They have to lie down to watch a video that is projected on the installation’s ceiling. What they see projected is a juxtaposition of different videos the artist filmed to capture her process of creating sculptural objects. Some of these objects are inspired by dildos: the sculptures are made with plaster and clay, or the artist sews fabrics, foam, and plastic, together. The visitor-viewer follows Melsohn’s first-person-point-of-view images, as her body and hands merge with the objects’ forms. While she makes the objects, one sees also the production of liquids and flows, soft penetrations, or the making of insides and outsides, holes, and connections that suggest sexual, even pornographic acts.
As part of a conceptual and aesthetic research she started in Brazil, Melsohn created series of different objects and installations with erotic connotations to reveal the constructedness of this same category. For example, she created Any bulge can also be a hole, and, an in between, a connection (2017-18), sculptural works that look like book-objects made of sewn soft phallic parts that could be handled by viewers.
But when Melsohn takes this repertoire of gesture-making to the realm of video installation, she also creates a shift in her practice: a displacement of the artist’s and the viewer’s gaze. While seeing and handling the objects creates a bodily relationship between object and viewer, the act of seeing Melsohn’s gestures, filled with sexual or erotic connotations, enacts a different response in the viewer. How have our sexual desires been primarily shaped if not by the act of gazing? A number of theorists and thinkers, from Lacan to Foucault, have discussed how desires are formed through ways of seeing.
Because the artist makes these bodily gestures––of molding, sewing, or building these forms––but then also edits her own imaging processes, she perhaps suggests that we can re-learn, or better, we can unlearn, what and how we desire. While mass media and advertising, TV, Hollywood, porno industries, and other imaging technologies have made most of us into gendered beings, Collection of Gestures suggests that these norms, like the editing of a video, can be de-constructed, re-assembled, over and over again, and made anew by each viewing subject. In Collection of Gestures, the act of seeing the making of sculptural objects––that may appear like erotic toys or dildos––emphasizes how desires are produced and imaged.
If we think of how our organs and limbs have been programmed to function and to react to certain types of desires, to fabricate and repeat certain sex and gender norms, we may also learn to counter these norms. Melsohn’s works suggest, as Paul B. Preciado has said, that “the dildo precedes the penis.” What happens when the penis is not, anymore, the center of the universe? No more the unifying sign that ties together and supports a white, normative, and misogynous society? Instead, one has the dildo as forming diverse and transgressive notions of sexuality. As Preciado writes in Countersexual Manifesto, one must start to think of a countersexuality, a countersexual society that “dedicates itself to the systematic deconstruction of the naturalization of sexual practices and the gender system.” Or, a countersexual society that “proclaims the equivalence (and not the equality) of all speaking subjects-bodies … dedicated to the search for pleasure-knowledge.” In other words, Preciado, as a transgender man, advocates for a society in which sexual identities are made of “meaningful practices” that go beyond the “biological truths,” such as man and woman.
By seeing this “collection of gestures” moving and pulsating together, we may realize that what they propose is a more fluid notion of sexuality. In these videos, combined to sounds and music, Melsohn’s gestures and objects may suggest that our bodies, the ways in which we use our limbs, and our desires can be opened up to repertoires beyond the binary thinking that has been pressed onto our flesh and skins or inserted into our eyes and ears.