On some level I suspect we all think we know a little about love, or at least the fundamentals of human relationships. Some get lucky and fall for the one next door, whilst it takes the rest of us – the vast majority – a few more goes before the right one makes their entrance. With each fall we learn a bit more, not only about how best to pick ourselves up, but also what we need in a soul mate. I would imagine that the four artists who have contributed to this show have lived through their fair share of heartache. As such, throughout I Know Something About Love, they demonstrate to both the bruised and the hopeful that the most perfect love affairs have their problems, and that love itself comes in many guises.
Yang Fudong’s musical film work Flutter, Flutter…Jasmine, Jasmine (2002) is a good reminder that a cosy home life doesn’t always equate with bliss. His young couple live in urban China, and although the curatorial blurb suggests that they are torn between their Eastern heritage and Western influence, it seems more that they are stuck in that terrible mix of being madly in love and also slightly disappointed that they don’t feel happier. I wonder if each viewer projects their own experiences onto the couple, interpreting their expressions and body language in different ways.
In contrast, Shirin Neshat’s Fervor (2000) explores love in a society ruled by gender-division and strict codes of conduct. Her Iranian couple pass each-other in silence and even when attending the same event are divided by a cloth wall. Nonetheless, they feel each other’s presence and frequently glance in the other’s direction, as though joined by a sixth sense. The frustrations of their situation and their obvious yearning for the freedom to express themselves is tangible, and to Western eyes seems alien and terrible. The last scene shows them passing again in a deserted back street. You hope they’ve managed an exchange of some sort, a kiss or an arranged rendez-vous, but they undoubtedly haven’t.
The most aesthetically impressive but also the most grating work on display is Yinke Shonibare’s Jardin d’Amour (2007), a leafy maze in the clearings of which are flower-strewn headless tableaux of lovers taken from Fragonard paintings. The figures are dressed in batik-print Rococo outfits, mixing traditional African fabric with European courtly love and reminding the viewer that it was slavery that funded the excesses of the rich at this time. In all honesty, I understand the motivation here and the cultural clash is well executed and poignant, but this would have been a gorgeous work without the undertones of First World guilt.
The final work of the show brings home a fundamental human truth: humans are not solo animals and we crave intimacy. In order to film Slow Dance Marathon (2005) Christodoulos Panayiotou asked a succession of strangers to slow dance together to famous love songs and filmed the various dances over 24 hours. The result was surprising: the couples, who had never previously met, danced as closely as they would with a significant other, without inhibition or discomfort. This film piece made me overwhelmingly sad that such a basic thing as physical contact is sufficiently important to cause us to get our fill slow dancing with total strangers. But then I suppose everyone’s a stranger until you meet them.
-- Alex Field
All images courtesy The Parasol Unit
Images: Christodoulos Panayiotou, Slow dance marathon, 2005, Video still, Video (documentation of a performance), 4 minutes 22 seconds, © Christodoulos Panayiotou, courtesy the artist and Rodeo, Istanbul. Yinka Shonibare, Jardin d’amour, 2007, Parasol unit installation shot. Photo Stephen White.