COLLECTION OF LOVERS
Project Arts Centre
It's safe to assume that at a certain point in Raquel André's five-year performance project, in which the Portuguese artist recruits individual strangers to spend an hour with her to both manufacture and document a sense of intimacy, she stopped collecting "lovers" and began compiling statistics.
“Fifty-seven greeted me with a long hug,” begins her soothing litanies from the stage, where an infinite paper scroll rolls down to the floor, doubling as a projector screen for her images, next to a process-facilitating workstation. “One hundred and fifty-five said goodbye with a strong hug…” And so on.
André, who introduces herself as "a collector of rare things", has so far collected 245 lovers. Should this prove to be her life's work, she imagines gathering 5,000 by the age of 80. In the age of social media, which this compulsive and fundamentally self-oriented exercise directly recalls, and only indirectly indicts ("Two played with my hair, but 57 complimented my hair"), human interactions seem as gratifying and superficial as a stack of "likes" on a Facebook post, valid only if they have something to offer Instagram. Pics, or it didn't happen.
Anybody who tattoos the word 'ephemeral' on their wrist must have an indelible appreciation for drifting irony
But, of course, here it didn't happen. Anybody who tattoos the word "ephemeral" to their wrist must have an indelible appreciation for drifting irony. Likewise, André's plausibly candid flickers of intimacy – carefully staged photographs of banal domesticity, playful exchanges, semi-naked glimpses – only emphasise its absence. This is not so much a performance of love as a parody of it.
That underscores more uncomfortable exchanges, such as the story of one man who arrived at André’s apartment with blunt expectations of sex, leaving her fearful and rattled. It leads her to compare her vulnerable position to the ills and toxic assumptions of the patriarchy. Can’t a woman can’t take a bath with a complete stranger any more without them getting the wrong idea?
But what is the right idea to get from Collection of Lovers, which recounts loneliness, obsession and fleeting interactions not so much as stories, with the traction of real humanising detail, but as a slippery, indistinguishable data set? Like the restless endeavour itself, perhaps, it may be inevitable that the show, disappearing finally into a cloud of smoke, will not reach a conclusion.