Might it be possible for film to transcribe something as ephemeral as human warmth? Affection? Presence, trust and submission? What about love? Can film bear witness to love? Express love? How can a lens invoke these very personal, subjective experiences? These are some of the questions posed by American artist Margaret Salmon in this newly commissioned work for DCA.
Hole is about our bodies and the intimate human connections we seek with others. In an immersive installation that uses light, heat and sound, Salmon seeks to create an atmosphere of warmth, comfort and radiance to step into over the cold winter months.
The exhibition begins with a literal hole in the wall, an architectural rupture of shattered plaster that has been deliberately crafted to hint at the new environment the artist has created beyond this threshold. Once through this new entrance viewers may then detect initial sensory shifts in the room by way of soft heat emanating from electric heaters on the floor. This simple gesture by Salmon enhances the immersive atmosphere of the gallery.
These heaters flank a new two-channel film work titled I you me we us that portrays particular visual representations of warmth, care, kinship and growth. It features the hands of lovers and family members, interspersed with texts, words, language and questions posed by the artist in the making of this wider body of work.
Accompanying I you me we us is a double-sided takeaway poster work, Woman and Bird (Miró). One side depicts hands performing a mudra, which is a ritualistic or spiritual gesture in Hinduism and Buddhism. The particular gesture captured here evokes the shape of a womb, of a safe and nurturing space. The other side of the poster displays a photograph of a page from Joan Miró, Sculptures: a catalogue from a Royal Scottish Academy exhibition in 1992. This book forms part of Salmon’s wider body of research relating to the female body in art, and she was drawn to a particularly poetic title, The Caress of a Bird, that seems to narrate an idea of the body as an imaginative and erotic space. This piece forms part of an ongoing series of ephemeral poster works by Salmon in which she generously gives some of her beautiful images away to audiences over the course of an exhibition.
As a filmmaker, Salmon is known for creating portraits that weave together poetry and ethnography. Often focusing on individual subjects, her work captures the minutiae of the everyday human experience, infusing it with a sense of poignancy and subtle grandeur. In speaking of her approach to documenting the world around her, she has said:“It’s important for me to be both technically and emotionally skilled and prepared – to know the camera well enough to use it intuitively, without worry or distraction, so that I can respond to a person, place or situation with intelligence and care.”
Adapting techniques drawn from cinematic movements such as Cinema Vérité and the European avant-garde, Salmon’s orchestrations of sound and image introduce formal abstractions as well as environmental interventions into the tradition of realist film.
At the heart of this exhibition is a new 16mm film work titled Two, that uses a female erotic gaze to look for places where love might be found in contemporary life and to explore what might constitute supportive, loving relationships today. It documents three different couples in joyful acts of lovemaking, celebrating the ways in which bodies and people connect physically and emotionally to one another.
Salmon has said the following about Two: “This is an attempt to trace a physical manifestation of love between committed partners, through the mediation of my camera. It’s a simple, intuitive account of the collaboration between myself and the people in the work, and is a celebration of connection and intimacy between caring bodies, as seen through a woman’s camera lens.”
Two acts in many ways as an antidote to dominant patriarchal visual culture and capitalistic representation of sex that are often entirely divorced from the reality of our bodies and the sexual relationships we cultivate with others.
A multi-channel sound work nearby titled Your breath, so close, uses some of the audio recorded whilst making Two, together with recordings of human breath and spoken excerpts from bell hooks’ book All About Love to build an aural soundscape for the exhibition. hooks is a renowned feminist theorist, cultural critic and writer and in this text she refutes an understanding of love as simple romance and instead offers a proactive and radical new ethic for intimacy, care and community in the 21st century.
Salmon’s project in its entirety is a timely look at ideas of love in our society, at a moment when we are exposed to so many images of violence, trauma and hate in the world around us. Hole offers up a space apart from all of this: creating nurturing, positive representations of human beings together.