I have not loved (enough or worked)

A study in labour and love

A study in labour and love.

Recognise your failures.

You only love that which you can lose so loosen your grip, let her slip through your fingers.

Past loves cannot be returned to the here and now.

We experience multiple separations.

All caretaking is detachable from and attachable to.

We have each other, we take from each other.

Love is mutual loss.

Our personal relationships have always informed our labour networks.

You keep searching for a structural replacement to love, become a professional lover or quit economising your empathy.

Love is the most effective means of creating time and energy.

There is no joy to be found in fulfilment, only in recognition.

You cannot comprehend compassion without separation.

Never pay your debts.

Always be prepared to suddenly depart. Your lover will wait forever.

The body can’t expand, art can’t feel, and people can’t express a range of self.

All bodies are flattened.

All we have are bodies and confirmation biases in collision.

All positions are essentialised.

All bodies are faceless.

Yoko Ono’s Cut Piece, 1964, is a body with a face, a pain recognisable.

If we can expand our bodies to recognise a range of selves then how can we occupy or explore new

territory outside ourselves? What ground will be gained? Or more so, what liberties have we surrendered in service of ourselves?

Call it what you will.

You can try to hold the centre or you can try to hyper-normalise the violence.

See inflammatory rhetoric and whipping up of false division.

Or remove all complexity and build a ‘fake world’.

If we are all set on refusal, if we can be multiple – and not all of us can, nor should – then we must extend this same refusal to others.

I know you have not loved (enough or worked).

It is an extractive logic that ties productivity to guilt.

As if it is the creator’s intention to problematise ‘the social’ as something that can be understood from within but only sensed from the outside. Can we not apply this same understanding to our social interactions? Might we knowingly misunderstand in order to bring into being other kinds of emotions that are not necessarily connected to a secondary misinterpretation but instead reference the primary act?

I do not need to be responsible for the actions of my character because it truly is an age where everyone can be and is a performer.

Living together we haven’t made ourselves better.

We exchange glances but I divert my gaze for I was told that I cannot see.

I search for truth in a photograph but my eyes drift to a previous life I can no longer recall, for I don’t recognise myself.

I want to go home.

On average are you better or worse than your grandparents?

My father says I’m being melodramatic but how should I face the future?

It wasn’t how I imagined but sometimes work isn’t all that important.

Much hope, no change.

I kid.

I’m not afraid, except for losing you.

Lin Zhipeng (aka No. 223), 花床 Kiss on Flower Bed, 2011, archival pigment print. Courtesy of the Artist

I have not loved (enough or worked) – the intimacy of the title speaks to the individual, implying that you yourself have not done enough, or calling into question what you have done. It is an emotionally moralistic title which measures your personal and professional productivity in relation to feelings of guilt, shame, anger and despair and to matters of connection, care for others, and care for the self.

Love cannot be separated from work. In addressing love’s relationship to labour – specifically the labour of love – knowing it is impossible to untangle love from work, and meaningless to suggest otherwise, I will not critique such labour as precarious or hidden. Nor will I suggest that work needs to be measured by compensation and utility, or imply that it is wholly perpetuated by structures of power, as if such constructions are mutually exclusive, capable of containment and isolation. Instead, I want to reflect on how people hold themselves together and support each other is analogous to how nations, territories and regions construct and hold themselves together as a whole. To think, with Gregory Bateson, that ‘a stick is a pathway’ instead of a boundary. And so it follows that there is no inside or outside; the everyday engagements between people, creatures, objects and ideas are co-constitutive. By acknowledging our distinction without treating ourselves as exceptional, can we create new possibilities for understanding and relating to each other? Or rather:

Can I exist without troubling to think?[1]

I have not loved (enough or worked) is a re-worked line from a poem by Lisa Robertson.[2] Like the poem itself, the work of each artist in this exhibition exists almost like an experiential, literary tale – one that opens out our experience of love and longing, loneliness and loss, and which contemplates how our understanding of these tangled, at times tortuous notions shape our relationships to the world as collectives, as pairs and as other social assemblies. The exhibition reveals how deeply enmeshed our bodies, and the subjective forces of love and desire, are within the fantasies of ‘the good life’.

Bringing together works in video, photography, painting and sculpture by Hai-Hsin Huang, Rinko Kawauchi, Sejin Kim, Daisuke Kosugi, Pixy Liao, Lin Zhipeng (aka No.223), Lieko Shiga, and Tao Hui, the exhibition articulates the ways that people are fragile, finite. Their bodies, their subjectivities, are composed of pathways that need careful guarding and constant negotiation, just as feelings, memories and emotions pour out from each of us and complicate all kinds of encounters. It is this energetic dualism that defines our cultural, social and economic worlds and that we can reshape by uttering our intentions, asking questions, formulating ideas and committing to lofty abstractions.

By doing this, we might open up nasty wounds behind our hearts, and name the layers of love and loss that animate us, that reveal how our vulnerability is not a weakness but rather a place from which we compose new ways of being in the world and with each other, as friends, family, workmates and lovers … or all at the same time. Such sentiments provide a platform to consider how these works were brought into being under an impulse to assert the complex existence of a temporal, multiply-inflected subject, in flux with the world around it. The project is an acknowledgment of the strange agency we fragile people have when we participate in that mobile re-shaping, together and alone.

Hai-Hsin Huang, The Future is Hot #1, 2021, oil on canvas, 53 x 45.5 cm Courtesy of the Artist and Double Square Gallery
Hai-Hsin Huang, Mayday Blues #3, 2021, oil on canvas, 53 x 45.5 cm. Courtesy of the Artist and Double Square Gallery

Each artist in I have not loved (enough or worked) is an ardent observer of everyday life and the social structures that bind or separate us; or rather, of the structures that determine how people are to behave or ought to behave. In Kosugi’s film A False Weight, 2019 we see the ways in which the protagonist Tadashi, a retired Japanese architect and bodybuilder, experiences his daily routines, and how these are poetically filtered through the various objects, surroundings, and people in his life. The work is an experimental portrait of the artist’s father, Masanori Kosugi, who worked closely with Butoh dancer, Toru Iwashit, to choreograph a three-act narrative which gradually unfolds the experience of losing control of one’s own body in a manner that is not forced, strained or overly sentimental. What we experience is a man caught between his desire for personal freedom and acceptance of his declining body’s new ways of being in and moving through the world. Ultimately, the title A False Weight, like that of this exhibition, is a fallacy. It is akin to the ‘cruel optimism’ which binds us to institutional structures, and which forces us to try and keep up with the good life that we seek to attain or maintain.[3] As Kosugi suggests, A False Weight carries a moral sensibility which allows him to understand his father’s experience as well as demonstrate the marking of bodies as failed, unproductive and unwanted in accordance with the norm.[4] Speaking about A False Weight, curator Laura Herman asks:

Can architecture contribute to an alternative future for disabled bodies, or should our attitude to space and time be more inclusive of human unpredictability, the seismic shifts of the body? Perhaps it is more valuable to create architectures of community and affinity rather than dependency, necessitating an approach that constitutes an apprehension of self and other, of the affinities that are shaped, or not, within spatial settings.[5]

Architecture has a stubbornness which can bind and fix our feet in place. This rigidity produces an idealised built environment and accompanying set of social structures that solidify their power by making the standardised body rely on certainty as a means of containing the apprehension of difference. Frustration erupts when an attempt is made to move beyond or turn away from architectural qualities that do not hold the potential for change.

Such tensions are enticingly revealed in Kosugi’s accompanying sculptural works, To hold on hold, 2019 and Recliner LC4, 2019. Held together under tension, the bamboo structure of To hold on hold emulates the ambiguity of the human body. Its stable yet seemingly fragile spatial form disrupts the notion of a structural support as fixed, firm and upright. Similarly, Recliner LC4 reinterprets Charlotte Perriand and Le Corbusier’s LC/4 Chaise Longue, 1928, by replacing the iconic tubular industrial steel with bamboo. A piece of furniture designed for the resting body of an impersonal, anonymous user, LC/4 Chaise Longue emphasised the form, functionality, and force of twentieth  century technological progress. As Herman notes, Kosugi’s bamboo sculptures acknowledge contemporary design’s concern for the creation of safe, accessible places yet questions the notion of a universal, unchanging body for whom the chaise lounge is built.[6] In doing so, he makes us consider how not only objects but people and environments function (or fail to) as props and prosthetics. This flows back into the experience of love and longing, of caring for people and being separated from others – all the moments of connection and misconnection which keep our bodies under tension.

Daisuke Kosugi, A False Weight, 2019 (still), 4K UHD video, 5.1ch audio, 49 min. Courtesy of the Artist
Rinko Kawauchi, Untitled from the series Cui Cui, 2005, C-type print, 30.5 x 25.4 cm. Courtesy of the Artist

We can find a different sequence of generative tensions in the photobooks of Kawauchi. In Cui Cui, 2005, the space and pace of images is carefully determined by the artist – the photographs speed up, slow down, repeat and softly pause before bursting back out, creating an open dialogue which unfolds the larger themes of human existence. It is an element of her practice that questions the notion of borders – between birth and death, between one room and the next – to show there is no clear separation. Each photograph in Cui Cui is a memory of Kawauchi’s family and hometown, which she had been shooting for 13 years. By capturing scenes of holidays, family gatherings, ageing and pregnancy alongside references to passages and crossings in the form of windows, doorways, streets and hallways, Kawauchi refers to the circularity of life, the movement of people, and the dynamic nature of memory.

We create such deceitful images and sublime renditions to service our human grief. Our need to reconcile the past and make bearable the present fuels the making of art. We know such production is but a dream for a better future, an attempt to heal what’s gone and what’s past help. As if we ‘humans could defeat nature’, as the broadcaster says in one of the nine videos that comprise Tao Hui’s work Hello, Finale! 2017, ‘Humanity is created by nature. What nature wants to take back it will take back.’ Each performance, scripted in Japanese and filmed in Kyoto, is composed by the artist as a one-way dialogue spoken over the phone by an on-screen protagonist to an unknown recipient. The effect is distant yet familiar as we are held in the warmly nostalgic embrace of channel surfing and long-distance phone calls that represent all of us living things – whether aspiring actors now seeking to become professional housewives, husbands who know their relationships are beyond repair, anxious school children wanting to go home, or concerned mothers who think that work isn’t all that important – navigating this world and its social complexity by performing ourselves better. All of us filled with pathos and yearning as we seek out connections with other living things. All of us anxiously flipping through the channels trying to find our true selves. All of us making that final phone call in a desperate attempt to move forward with our lives. All of us finding the courage to face the future.

Lieko Shiga, Untitled from the series Blind Date, 2009, chromogenic print, 60 x 90cm. Courtesy of the Artist

The photographs of Shiga also carry with them fundamental questions about life and how to express oneself. In her series Blind Date, Shiga spent one week photographing around 100 couples riding motorbikes in Bangkok during the summer of 2009. For Shiga, the camera was the perfect tool for capturing the intimate distance needed to swap glances with a stranger. This act of shared looking revealed to her the insatiable desires which form the richness of human existence. Speaking about this body of work, Shiga says:

How much does the eye control us? I was told that I cannot see.

Does the reason for this relate to a previous life that I can no longer recall?

I wanted to know the truth, so I attended university and learned about many religions around the world.

Many, many things were said about life and death, but I felt uncomfortable about all of them.

They didn’t quite match how I am.

We all endure feelings of alienation, conflict and confusion on a daily basis. These emotions are crisply pulled into focus in Kim’s video Urban Hermit, 2016, in which a female cleaner slowly moves through a modern art museum. As we follow her on this journey, we encounter other museum workers – cleaners, security guards, and invigilators – all perfectly positioned within this highly controlled, pristine gallery environment. The video’s two-screen configuration mirrors the linear arrangement of the museum’s space, containing, minimising and isolating each worker in this larger structure. Alternating between footage of actual museum workers and the actors who play them, Urban Hermit presents itself as a series of atomised existential moments within a totalising whole.

Like Kim, Huang depicts the tension that exists between the harshness of reality and the idealised versions of life that we construct from the everyday. Huang’s loose painterly approach to rendering people is honest and genuine, while at the same time highly performative and humorous. Painted in Taipei during the height of the Covid-19 pandemic in 2021, this new series describes the suffocating social experience of living with the virus. The obvious disconnect between the people and their environment – a man dives into a luxurious pool as fires rage around him, a choir performs amongst desert dunes, and figure skaters twirl under a hot pink sky – suggestive of our desire to escape an anxious existence that is unhinged from reality.

While Huang paints her ‘inner landscapes’ to create space for new ways of holding ourselves together, Liao sets up situations for herself and her boyfriend Moro to playfully perform and challenge gender roles through photography. In her ongoing project, Experimental Relationship (2007– ), Liao often portrays herself in a dominant role and her boyfriend in a more submissive position, thus breaking the predominant relationship model and experimenting with new modes of being together.

Thinking about the messiness of human relationships, I realise why 223 composes the world through bodies. A photographed body is a temporary sculpture containing two forms of work: one that permanently arrests a mutable body in space and time, and another that cannot be held or replicated because it takes place as you click the shutter. The photograph unapologetically says, I can’t forget you. It shows you that relationships will continue even as they change. Your friends will grow old, their homes might shift from Beijing to Paris, and some lovers may depart while others choose to stay. In 223’s photographs we see bodies immersed in milky waters or decisively slumped against the wall. These are bodies that are not explicitly working but neither are they at rest. The fuzz of film and the fizz of flesh in these photographs draws us near, bringing us ever closer to that moment of release and unencumbered joy. 223 reminds me that we carry love with us. And so it follows that we are always at work. We can never love enough or work enough. But know there is always enough love.

Sejin Kim, Urban Hermit, 2016 (still), 2 channel HD video, stereo sound, 6 minutes 21 seconds. Courtesy of the Artist
Tao Hui, Hello, Finale!2017 (still), HD video installation, colour, sound, 40 minutes. Courtesy of the Artist, Kiang Malingue and Esther Schipper

‘A study in labour and love’ was originally published in ‘I have not loved (enough or worked)’, ed. Rachel Ciesla, AGWA 2022. Available for purchase online at the AGWA Design Store

  1. Jean-Jacques Rousseau: ‘The ebb and flow of this water, its sound continuous but also marked by motions that ceaselessly patterned my ear and my eyes, supplemented my own emotion, calmed now by reverie, so that I felt in myself, so pleasurably and effortlessly, the sensation of existing without troubling to think’. Quoted in Lisa Robertson, R’s Boat (Berkley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 2010) vi.
  2. Lisa Robertson, ‘Face’ in R’s Boat, 2010, 1–13.
  3. Lauren Berlant, Cruel Optimism (Durham: Duke University Press, 2011).
  4. Laura Herman and Daisuke Kosugi, ‘The time of the body and the volcano: unpredictability and non-linearity’ in Daisuke Kosugi: A False Weight (Paris and Bordeaux: Jeu de Paume and CAC, 2019), 24.
  5. Ibid, 19.
  6. Ibid.