A I S T I T / coming to our senses
When our eyes touch
Touch is the first sense to develop in the human infant, and it remains perhaps the most emotionally central throughout our lives. It is vital for the emotional and physical health of human beings and other social mammals. To touch and to be touched is to recognise a connection and simultaneously a separation at the margins of oneself; the movement back and forth on the border zone of one’s body. But how to touch and be touched during a global pandemic when physical proximity has become dangerous, potentially lethal?
When our eyes touch is the first chapter of A I S T I T / coming to our senses, a year-long series of exhibitions and performances commissioned by the Finnish Institutes in the Benelux, France, Germany, and the UK and Ireland to explore the complexity and wonder of our sensory perceptions and how they shape us as human beings. Curators Hans Rosenström and Satu Herrala reflect on the topic of ‘senses’ (‘aistit’ in Finnish) and their physical, political and technological dimensions today.
Bringing together multiple visual and performing artists working across different geographical
locations, A I S T I T / coming to our senses unfolds a fragile world that is interconnected and full of nuances.
The title of the first exhibition When our eyes touch derives from Jacques Derrida’s question to Jean-Luc Nancy “When our eyes touch, is it day or is it night?” (1) Derrida wrote, “If two gazes come into contact, the one with the other, the question will always be whether they are stroking or striking each other – and where the difference would lie.” Touch is an entrance to the world of bodies where we expose ourselves to threats as well as open up to the blessings of bodily engagement; the hidden depths we cannot know otherwise. What happens when two gazes meet, not only to see the eye and what is visible but to look into the depth of the other? When our eyes touch, behind masked faces, a gaze may function as affective touch, as a gesture of kindness; a solace. Nancy replied after Derrida had already passed away, “Salut to the vision that did not cling to forms or ideas but that let itself be touched by forces.” (2)
Open in Paris and the neighbouring village of Bazoches-sur-Guyonne in Maison Louis Carré, the exhibition When our eyes touch unfolds around the vulnerability of the body and the vitalness of touch.
At the Institut finlandais gallery in Paris, the subtle photographic and video works of Axel Antas and Laurent Millet explore the physicality of viewing and call to be witnessed with bodily empathy.
Presented in July 2021 at the Great Hall of Institut finlandais will be a newly commissioned work for A I S T I T / coming to our senses by Dafna Maimon entitled Leaky Teeth. Known for her subversive narratives and physically engaging settings, Maimon invites the public to discover their bodily intelligence and interdependence.
Maimon develops a vibrant universe using experimental body techniques, luscious materials and absurd humour to immerse the viewer inside the cavities and mysteries of the body. The exhibition consists of a series of drawings, an installation and a video piece on a prehistoric cavewoman, who fantasizes of an alternative course of history for humankind; one in which humans recognise their existence as porous and fluid, and live in a stream of mutual reciprocity with one another and their environments.
A I S T I T / coming to our senses is generously supported by the Alfred Kordelin Foundation, the Finnish Cultural Foundation, the Jenny and Antti Wihuri Foundation, the Ministry of Education and Culture (Finland), The Niilo Helander Foundation and Saastamoinen Foundation.
1) Derrida, Jacques. On Touching – Jean-Luc Nancy. 2000. Stanford University Press.
2) A tribute by Jean-Luc Nancy written a day after Jacques Derrida’s death. Also published in On Touching – Jean-Luc Nancy.