Intimacy Without Relationships by Sam Goncalves
Generator Projects – April 2018 by Alison Philp
Intimacy Without Relationships has been specially commissioned by Generator Projects to be shown within the artist-run space at Mid Wynd. It consists of two parts, an interactive installation and a short looped film screening.
At the start of the screening there is a written and spoken disclaimer, “Permission has not been granted to use any of the stories in the film and also some music has been stolen.” This positing declaration paves the way for what we are about to become involved in as we are made to contemplate the ethics of this non-fiction practice.
Further viewing and consideration, however, reveals the irony of the situation. The current world may be one where many people habitually share intimate things online to people they don’t know in Facebook posts, Tweets, Vlogs and Blogs and Instagram Stories, but the main incongruity of this film is that the stories used are not those of ordinary people but of American politicians manipulatively, and a Youtube star controversially, using ‘real peoples’ stories for their own gain, and without permission.
The film itself is structured through a kind of free association where seemingly disparate elements collide and find connections and where fragmented storytelling becomes structured into linear narrative. Significantly the news events featured in the film are all on the edge of current time, having happened within the past few years and months. They are the type of transient stories that appear in a farce of headline news that pervade our daily lives and then disappear. Disassociation and loss of stories is echoed in the installation of ‘500 conversations’ where two paper cups are connected by a twine which, when held taught, allow sound to vibrate down from one cup to the other; pertinently the longer the string and the further apart the cups are the better the device works. The artist has collected one word, written inside cup, from personal conversations with five hundred people. This work points to the editing practice of stories, about what you keep and reveal of someone and what you hide and delete. It also evidences the fact that when we speak and someone listens to us, our words can stay intangible, but when we speak and someone writes it down, a very different relationship happens between our words and the world that surrounds them as they become removed and emptied from any original meaning. As the exhibition draws to a conclusion Sam himself confesses, in an interview, that he has already forgotten what most of these conversations were about.
And so we may wonder why people offer their stories at all? To be noticed and befriended, to make things right, to be forgiven are all possibilities but do the subjects desires ever manifest in the way that they imagine? Or is the fact that the journalist is not their friend but an unforgiving parasite of their story? The artist himself by way of comparison quotes Janet Malcolm in her book ‘The Journalist and the Murderer’, “Every journalist who is not too stupid or too full of himself to notice what is going on knows that what he does is morally indefensible.”
The ethics of personal compulsion and motive hasn’t bypassed the storyteller of this film as the opening sequence establishes with ‘What kind of person is fascinated by a passport photograph lying in a busy street?’ and the more inquiring ‘how does such a practice shape the storyteller? The tradition of the objective journalist elevated above the subjective ‘wrongdoer’ is also disrupted in the films culminating realisation that in his own non-fiction practice, he may actually ‘not be any different?’
The search for self-knowledge, distance and the haziness of relationships is reflected in the aesthetic of the film framed throughout by a circular hole in the base of a paper cup. The picture quality is grainy. Clarity is not the objective. It is, at best, an obfuscated snapshot of things and uncertainty prevails.
Indeterminate relations of things also surface in the ownership of the film-makers own story. The narrator has an Irish accent and speaks in the first person but the filmmaker himself has a Brazilian tinged accent. To most people this will remain an imperceptible device of meaning-making that, once revealed, queries the complexity of identity and relationships. The use of a surrogate voice firstly puts distance between the teller and the owner of the story and objectifies what we might tell ourselves every day in order to continue. Secondly it leads us to question the veracity of storytelling in documents that strive to understand the social world that surrounds us. Biography, of self and others is, arguably, a processing plant where personal experience is converted into information that can become more real than the event itself.
This all leads to contemplation of the authority granted to journalists and other guardians of stories and the age-old question of how such power can be held to account. One of the most fundamental questions in political philosophy is, as the Roman poet Juvenal first put it, “Who will guard the guardians themselves?” It is perhaps for this reason that the artist has made this work to be ephemeral. The copyright infringement means the film cannot be shown in the public realm except in a similar artist run space and time passed means that it has lost its sense of ‘Now’, and with that, perhaps also its significance. The paper cups connected by twine will break and tear, (the one I made already has), and what little trace is left of the 500 intimate conversations will also then disappear into a recycling bin. It is as if the only ethical answer to the questions posed is that people’s stories should be heard then forgotten, momentarily and gloriously lost to time.