Thursday, October 03, 2013

Response to work by Melanie Manchot, Published in Querformat, 2012

Melanie Manchot, a London-based artist approached me in 2012 to write a response to the subject of kissing. A subject she has put at the centre of some of her films and photographs. 
The following text was published alongside a piece of her writing and photographs from her L.A. Pictures, 2000 series ( It can be found in Querformat, issue number 5, 2012.

A Look at Kissing from L’Age D’Or (Luis Bunuel, 1930)

Still from Luis Bunuel's
L'Age D'Or
Two scorpions fight in the sand. Or are they kissing? A rat is killed by the sting (or is it the kiss) of the scorpion. A man grinds a beetle into dust with his shoe. We are more powerful than insects, or so we like to think. We are the only animals who know how to kiss. We are civilized.

A group of bourgeois revelers is roused by the noise of animals screeching in the distance. The revelers run mob-like towards the sound. A young man and woman are kissing passionately on the ground. The mob tear the woman away from the man. Was she being attacked? Raped? But her face is marked with pleasure. They were kissing.

It is the day of the grand party on the Roman Estate of the Marquis of X. The men kiss the hands of the women. Formal kisses. Do they even count? They are not the kisses of the scorpion. Or are they? Perhaps their sting is their emptiness?

The Bourgeois young man whose foot had crushed the beetle arrives at the party and arouses his aristocratic illicit lover by slapping a woman’s face. The lovers don’t kiss upon first meeting but scurry into the bushes of the Marquis's garden. They tussle and grope. Still no kiss. She takes his hand into her mouth. He takes hers. Mad birdsong fills the air. The orchestra begins to play on the terrace of the villa. Still no kiss. The first notes of Wagner startle the lovers from their attempt at a first kiss. Their heads bump. He lifts her and she falls to the ground. Kissing is as absurd as slapstick. Finally their lips meet. He is distracted from her lips by the solid, sandaled foot of a marble statue. Their kissing stops.

Then it gets rougher. Music from the nearby orchestra swells and the lovers are interrupted again. The man is called to the phone by the Marquis’s butler. The woman is left alone by the statue. She kisses, licks and suckles the statue’s toes like a hungry baby at the breast. The music heaves.

Children have been murdered somewhere. The young man is responsible. He is an assassin, a villain, a murderer.

The conductor holds his head in his hands. The orchestra puts their instruments down. Is it a migraine or is it the consciousness of this terrible act of murder? The woman is now kissing the afflicted conductor. Drums pound in the distance. The young man’s head is throbbing. There is no escape from the drums. His kisses did not save him. Nor did they save her. Sex like death is ever-present and inevitable and must be consummated.

A Holy Man emerges from a re-enactment of de Sade’s 120 Days of Sodom. He is followed by gout-ridden gentlemen, fat from indulgence and apathy and greed. The Holy Man returns to the scene of the orgy and rescues a bleeding young woman who has been used in their carnal torments. She is saved perhaps, until we hear her scream. No one is saved.

For Melanie Manchot's film Kiss, 2009 go to:

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