In these postmodern times, when nudity abounds in movies and on TV, not to mention on the Internet, what could possibly bother us about a kiss, and a pretty platonic one at that. Jerusalemites and visitors to the capital are about to find out exactly what a kiss can do to those that observe it, at the forthcoming Nekudat Maga (“Contact Point”) event at the Israel Museum.
Contact Point is the opening item of this year’s Jerusalem Season of Culture that kicks off on Thursday. It is a double header that offers a glimpse of just how far along the artistically creative continuum robotics has come, while the Oscula Project slot, devised by Idan Schwartz, unveils some intriguing takes on how to kiss, who kisses and what the kissers can do while involved in the lip-to-lip action.
The Oscula Project is defined as “a performative act of a kiss between two people and two lips, moving in the surrounding space without detaching their lips.
Together, the two explore the different ways to kiss, and also the viewers’ responses to this act, along with its invasion to the public space. Each performance starts with a kiss and ends with the detachment of the lips.”
Sounds simple enough.
“Oscula is Latin for kiss,” explains Schwartz. “I was always fascinated by kissing couples, people who kiss out on the street,” he says, adding that he was not in the Peeping Tom business. “On the one hand it is not really nice to stare at people kissing, but there is always a story behind the kiss.”
Thirty-something Schwartz is a product of the current anything goes age, but hankers after more innocent bygone times.
“You know, you see a kiss in movie and you don’t make too much of a big deal over it, but I really wanted to make a big deal over the act of kissing.”
Schwartz took the artistic route to investigating the ins and outs of the kiss, and how his predecessors depicted it. There is, of course, the famous and definitively alluring marble sculpture The Kiss by late 19th century French sculpture Auguste Rodin, but Schwartz principally found inspiration for his project in the work of the same name by early 20th century Romanian sculpture Constantin Brancusi. There was much to-ing and fro-ing along the byways and highways of artistic endeavor across the centuries although, ultimately, Schwartz decision to home in on the Oscula Project was prompted by an obscure, and hefty, work on the topic of labial encounters.
“I came across the very first paper written on the subject of the kiss, which was written in the 17th century,” he notes.
The work in question went by the name of Opus Polyhistoricum De Osculis
, by Martin von Kempen.
“It is 1,040 pages long, and it was written Latin.”
Happily, Schwartz managed to circumvent the language obstacle courtesy of a leading newspaper.
“In 2005, the New York Times
, I think, translated the paper and it came out as a book.”
It opened up a whole world of possibilities for Schwartz.
“I think von Kempen was a dental student and, in the paper, he describes and analyzes 20 types of kisses. Many of the ones he writes about are kisses that were part of pagan rituals.”
That led Schwartz straight into the kiss – if not the arms – of Brancusi’s attractive stone sculpture.
“There is something about this work which precisely captures the action I am talking about, and freezes it. I wanted to do exactly this, only for real, with real people. I also wanted to see what the action does to the people who observe it, and to the people who engage in it.”
But we are not talking romantic kissing in intimate surroundings. This is performance art per se, whereby the artistic act feeds the environment.
“Everything impacts on the way the couple kisses – the architecture around them, the people watching them, the weather, the sounds of the street. This is not about sex, or about love and it is not a political act.”
The reactions of the spectators are an integral part of the Oscula Project, and this changes according to the social-cultural milieu, and also the gender of the performers.
“We have had two women kissing in Jaffa, and we have had a heterosexual couple kissing in Rehovot,” says Schwartz.
The Oscula Project kissing act is quite a feat, and involves some degree of athleticism. The kiss can last a minute, and can go on for over an hour, or even longer.
“The two kissers are never a couple,” explains Schwartz. “The performance we did in White Night in Tel Aviv last week involved a man and a woman who met for the first time only a quarter-an-hour before we started. The kissers get to know each other during the course of the kiss. One of the principles behind the performance is that they explore the space around them. They stand, lie, sit, walk. They can drink, through a straw, buy something at a kiosk and talk – as long as their lips never part. When their lips part that is the end of the performance.”
Thursday’s outdoor performance at the Israel Museum involves three couples – a man and a woman, two men and two women – and will fittingly start off near the museum’s version of Rodin’s feted thematic sculpture.
The Jerusalem Season of Culture program lasts into September and takes in art exhibitions, music, video art, performance art, dance and theater at public and private venues across the city. For more information: www.jerusalemseason.com.