New Feminism: Gentle Triggers

‘Gentle Triggers’ is a presentation of work by London based artists Jala Wahid and Nicole Morris whose practices are positioned between sculpture and moving image.

Examining economies of affect and touch, it is the fifth part of the series ‘I turn the images of my voice in my head’. ‘Gentle Triggers’envisage the screen as an unconscious fetishist object and a space for imaginary tactile encounters, while questioning the role of affective labour in capitalism. As Rebecca Carson writes in her essay commissioned for this exhibition: ‘If it is ourselves that we are marketing, there are no limits to our performance’.

Hana Janečková

01 Let me Touch You, Make You Feel Really Nice

02 Soft Power

03 Rebecca Carson: Tactile qualities of the screen

“AYMÉ (baker) blue eyes, catcher’s physique, very nice- likes sweetness and caress at length- bought “La Partagée”- Has developed a taste for a very tender finger in the ass. ADRIEN enormous balls (hernia?) masturbates, finger in ass, suck all over (pouah!…) 80 F. ANDRÉ short, dry, going grey- assfuck, suck, fuck-instantly hard (glasses)100F…. …ALFREDO Near-dwarf Sicilian- suck, fuck, do not rush him 70 F. (Se also Fred) ALEX deaf, short, face a bit hard- no erection- manipulate with tenderness and extreme care 80 F. Do not suck- fucks more or less…” [See Henning, J. 2009. The Little Black Book of Grisélidis Réal: Days and nights of an anarchist whore. New York: Semiotexte(e). P 163.]   Women are constantly confronted with their ability to produce affect and are well versed in using it pragmatically. Grisélidis Réal, sex worker, writer and advocate published her “Little Black Book” that comically reveals the pragmatism found on the other side of conventional women’s work in tactile affectivity. Subjective performance requires a level of strategy. In capitalism today the combination of cognitive labour and precarious work means we find we are never not working. As a result every element of our taste, and expressions of self are immediately marketed and even produced to be marketable in the first place. While this is on the one hand an alienating function (we are formally subsumed by capitalism such that we don’t even know what part of ourselves could be considered not capitalist) the structural formation of post-fordism is more hospitable to traditionally feminine modes of work that centre around care and generating affect. Post-fordism not only ‘put to work’ language and communicative-relational action, but also femininity. However the problem then arises when, in order to remain marketable or competitive we are forced to hyper-perform; if it is ourselves that we are marketing, there are no limits to our performance. Repetitive, mechanical, and abjectly objective is, paradoxically, the subjective function of the grotesquely familiar voiceover narrating Jala Wahid’s video “Let me touch you, make you feel really nice” (2013). In employing the conventions of the weirdly popular ASMR videos found on Youtube (with millions of hits) Wahid confronts us with the blatant absurdity of ASMR videos by abject distortion of their structural mechanisms. ASMR, short for Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response, is a perceptual phenomena that triggers a tactile response of widely reported, pleasurable tingling in the head, scalp and back in response to purely cognitive stimuli. Its function perversity lies in the fact that in order to trigger a response there are specific requirements the video must contain in terms of content. That is, the video must be guided by un-intimidatingly attractive young women, speaking in whispers, catering to you as an individual while producing light sensual sounds. Further, ASMR relies on the mediation of the screen as an unconscious fetish object. Could you imagine someone actually arriving home from work approached by their wife whispering, lightly touching them while purposefully running her hands through her comb? It would be totally absurd.

The hyper performativity of femininity that we find in something like the ASMR (that we should treat as a service provided by a precarious worker) can be observed as a direct surfacing of capital. Problematic not only for the obvious reasons of hyper objectification, domestication and subservience to men, the effect is that we no longer even have an inner world that is our own. The person we become is the person we are constructing as necessarily subjected to the market. For women this means marketing femininity. Filtered through mundane imagery that quickly turns into the abject, Nicole Morris’s “Soft Power” (2015) shows to us affect is structural and not merely content-based, but maintains that tactility in video is not only reached through pleasure but rather is also achieved through the grotesque. However, the grotesque subject of Morris’ film is blatantly a subject without exchange value; a subject lacking the kind of femininity we could capitalize on. Morris and Wahid’s reconstructions of the images and sounds used as a mediation in ASMR to access certain imaginary relationships to representations of femininity, renders clear the fact that the tactile response to ASMR videos is generated through cognitive activity created purely by an imaginary narrative that is culturally embedded in the correctly performed feminine image on the screen. It is thus our imaginary connection to the image and sounds on the screen that triggers the very real material surfacing of a purely cognitive effect.  In observing the phenomenon of ASMR we are thus faced with the contradiction that the pleasurable aspect of touch is only manifest through an embedded narrative that is purely imaginary.  This is nothing new to Lacanian theorists who, through the widely known phrase ‘there is no sexual relationship,’ have purported that pleasure has always required the mediation of a fantasy; we never directly derive pleasure from the touch of another, rather pleasure accessed through our fantasy of the physical interaction. Hence in the case of ASMR, there must be a perverse culturally shared fetishist fantasy about femininity that runs deep in our collective imaginaries in order to produce such a widely experienced effect. Women’s subjection to patriarchy is on the one hand increasingly mediated by capitalism and thus not always directly apparent on the surface, while on the other hand is increasingly violent in the case of overt outbreaks of violence against women as seen by the 83,000 cases of rape and 400,000 cases of sexual assault that occur every year in the UK. Capitalist mediation problematically functions to hide the reality of patriarchal relations under the guise of women’s inclusion in the capitalist market while fictionally depicting structural violence against women to be the one off result of a randomly angry husband or pathological pervert. On the one hand, patriarchal control is reinforced by the over-determination of capitalism in our lives and on the other, by the resulting belief of equality that views violence as random. The videos by Nicole Morris and JalaWahid adamantly dispute these misconceptions of patriarchal control, showing how women are systematically produced as subjected to patriarchy through the un-freedom of marketing feminine subjectivity under current conditions of capitalism. ASMR is more than a hyper feminine representation on the screen functioning as a service of care, but rather the surfacing of a complex relationship between women, subjectivity and work.

04 Jala Wahid - Biography

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still from ASMR video:'a little of ASMR: peeling an orange with my nails', 2013 by danipink89

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'Hot Bod', 2013 (sculpture)

Jala Wahid is an artist and writer based in London. She graduated in 2014 from Goldmiths College and is co-founder of SALT, a magazine focusing on contemporary art and feminism.

Her recent projects include a solo presentation ‘Soft Ache’at, London and ‘Cacophony of Things’ at Temporary Gallery, Cologne. Forthcoming projects include a solo exhibition at Room E-10 27, Paris in May 2015.

05 Nicole Morris - Biography

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Currency (detail), 2014 (Performance)

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Impressions (detail), 2014 (Performance)

Nicole Morris works across sculpture, film and performance and is currently showing in Caprice, Open Space, Baltimore US. Selected solo exhibitions and performances include “Currency”, Jerwood Space; “Impressions”, Bold Tendencies and “Same Husband”, Space In Between, London.

Selected group exhibitions include “TTTT”, Jerwood Space; “Young London 2013”, V22; “Bloomberg New Contemporaries 2012” and she has also exhibited internationally. She co-curated “The Locomotion Moving Image Festival”, 2014. She completed her MA at the Slade School of Fine Art in 2011.

06 Rebecca Carson - Biography

Rebecca is a writer based in London and New York. She is the author of the forthcoming “Fictitious Debt” (2015).

She is a PhD candidate at the Centre for Research in Modern European Philosophy, UK where she is completing a dissertation entitled “Financialization and the Social Ontology of the Subject”.

07 New Feminism - I turn the images of my voice in my head

”New Feminism – I turn the images of my voice in my head” is a regular online presentation of work by a generation of artists responding to the on going fourth wave of feminism. Author of the project is Hana Janečková. Screenings of artists’ moving image will be accompanied by commissioned texts from curators, critics and theoreticians writing about the influence of feminism, technology and new media on contemporary culture.

What has happened recently to your body? Are you proud to be male or female? Can you be a feminist if your avatar enjoys wearing pink? Do you think gender is a capitalist concept? If so, do you think it existed in the former Eastern Block?

08 Exhibition credits

Author of the Project / Curator: Hana Janečková
Authors of Texts: Rebecca Carson and Hana Janečková
Online Exhibition Concept: Hana Janečková and Lenka Střeláková
Editing and Realization: Lenka Střeláková
Translated into Czech: Palo Fabuš
Published: 22. 4. 2015