In a performance that resembles a stream of consciousness love letter monologue, Kim Ye splices together topics ranging from objectum sexualis to climate change, and BDSM to animism in exploring the sensuality of the human/object relationship. Weaving together found and original text with quotes from Jane Bennett, Baruch Spinoza, Michel Foucault, and WJT Mitchell, the artist engages the concept of a ”script” as a subconscious force that guides human interaction with their inanimate surroundings. Inverting the hierarchical relationship between the human and nonhuman, this performance attempts to describe the physical and psychic codependence between ourselves and our synthetic neighbors, playmates, and lovers while exploring the sensual possibilities between thingness and the human body.
Tall, Dark, and Handsome was originally performed for the opening of Ecology of the Edge (curated by Paige Emery) at Human Resources in Los Angeles on November 29, 2019.
You smell good, oh god, you smell so good.
You make me feel so alive 1001 Nacht, I can touch the sky as your counterweight descends and your gondola rises. My days are brighter when I gaze upon your handsome face. I love you for the roundness of your counterweights on top, I love you for the narrowness of your jibs. I love you for the elegant lines of your gondola, which are covered up now for the winter. I love the ribbing and the parallel lines that come down—oh, i love that.
He’s just so noble, so proud, so strong…I not only love him for sexual attraction, I mean we’re not talking about fetish here, I love him as a mate.
Do you know how it feels to be in love with a carnival ride? To long for the delicate spheres of his lights, or his astringent and earthy scent—a mixture of oil and metal which allows his arm to move smoothly and confidently thought the air…?
What am I’m thinking about? Oh jeez, you know what I’m thinking about, hehehhe. This is very personal: when I make love to him, when I start climaxing, I just keep saying over and over again, just as I’m starting to go over the edge: I want your fluids, I want your fluids, I want your fluids, I want your fluids. I want to stay here with you 1001 Nacht, because as I have told you before, and I will many times repeat it: I love you…
How about the complexity of being in a relationship with a public monument? Have you felt the desire for one-on-one time with your mate thwarted by a field trip, a tour group, a photoshoot?
I come to you, and I feel like there’s distance between you and I. There always seems to be a sea of selfie sticks standing between us, but I know this is the nature of your being and I accept it as I accept you, my sweet Eiffel Tower of love. And at the same time, I’m one with you, I’m connected to you, there’s nothing between us right now. The heat of my body is flowing into your cold steel and the cold of your steel is flowing into my body. We are reaching equilibrium where we’re both the same temperature.
I talk to my lovers and they speak back to me through their cool surfaces, their many vibrations, our telepathy. I know this because I feel it in my body, which is also an object of course—one that is sensitive to the gravity of the vibrant matter all around us.
It’s actually quite pleasant that she’s cold because I can feel the exchange of temperature between us, which is an exchange of energy. That energy is very spiritual.
According to 17th century Dutch philospher Barach Spinoza, Conatus is the “active impulsion” or trending tendency to persist. It is what we share with things, and can refer to both the instinctive ”will to live” of biological organisms or to various theories of motion and inertia. Conatus names a power present in every body.
All objects have pull, all objects have influence, objects are energy…
Like this book: “What Do Pictures What?”
Why do we have such powerful responses toward the images and pictures we see in everyday life? Why do we behave as if pictures were alive, possessing the power to influence us, to demand things from us, to persuade us, seduce us, or even lead us astray? According to art historian W. J. T. Mitchell, we need to reckon with images not just as inert objects that convey meaning but as animated beings with desires, needs, appetites, demands, and drives of their own.
Ugh, I keep saying “object” which is such an anthropocentric term. When we say objects, we refer to the way things appear to a subject—that is, with a name, an identity, a gestalt or stereotypical template… My lovers are patient with me as I de-colonize my language to catch up with my heart. It’s a practice, isn’t it…
Things on the other hand, signal the moment when the object becomes the Big Other (and a part of the symbolic, not imaginary, order).”
She definitely loves me back—I can feel that, I can feel her right now and I don’t care if people don’t believe that I can communicate with her, it doesn’t matter to me—the only parties involved are her and myself in this relationship. So if people call me kookoo I don’t care. What we have is real and if it’s only real to me and it’s only real to her, it’s fine.
When the object becomes the Big Other, this is when “the sardine can looks back, when the mute idol speaks, when the human experiences the object as uncanny and feels the need for what Foucault calls a metaphysics of the object, or more exactly, a metaphysics of that never objectifiable depth from which objects rise up towards our superficial knowledge.”
That never objectifiable depth from which objects rise up towards our superficial knowledge.
Beautiful. Profound. Mysterious. Tall. Dark. Handsome.
But I digress. You know at times I envy my lovers for their object-ness. I sometimes long to be objectified myself. I think that’s why I go to the hairdresser, the aesthetician, the plastic surgeon…so that I can focus on my thing-ness, so that we can all focus on my thing-ness.
For example, when I walk though the door of the salon, I put myself in someone else’s hands, my cells are material to be arranged, scrutinized, and rearranged again. Wash me. Shape me. Dry me. Style me. Some stylists don’t like that I give myself over to them so fully, they want me to tell them exactly what look I want so they can know if they did a “good” job. See? People are so fragile like that, so needy, always looking for validation and comparing themselves to each other, to their own self-image, to abstract notions they’ve inherited.
Things on the other hand are secure, stoic, and accepting. They are also clever—getting us humans to put hands on them, getting us to wrack our minds to understand them, getting us to invest our life energy in finding new ways to reconfigure them. We’ve invented a whole system of globalized capitalism so we can help them travel around the world…and all the while we believe that it is they who serve us!
Just look around: We’ve made entire television series about how things persuade us, seduce us, or even lead us astray…1 season of Tidying up with Marie Kondo, 6 seasons of My Strange Addiction, 10 seasons of Hoarders, 20 seasons of Intervention—big or small, the materials that interface with our human senses can easily possess us, can’t they? It’s intimidating how effectively they can bend us to their will, getting us to sacrifice our own conatus in support of theirs.
Personally I resonate with Marie Kondo because she is tuned in to the lives of things and the lives that we make together with things. It’s evident in the way she folds socks into a position in which they can rest, and in the way she expresses her sincere gratitude to garage and closet piles—what an example of presence and grace.
And she’s not the only one, what about artists? Whole communities of people sitting around a thing and focusing their collective attention on it to unpack its meaning and understand its position. Sensitive to the force of quote unquote inert material, that’s what people like artists, hoarders, minimalists, addicts have in common—we cannot or will not resist the desires, needs, appetites, demands, and drives of things. “What do Pictures want?”
They want to evolve. But evolution depends on change and recombination…evolution is mutant and synthetic…synthetic, synthesis, synthesize. We named ourselves human beings, but what we really are are humans doing.
Meet my newest lover: yoga block. They are foam, they are blue. And what attracts me to them is their sensuality. Firm, yet soft to the touch, their consistency is not unlike that of a perfectly erect penis. Go on, touch them. Can’t you feel their strength, their integrity? And yet they yield, they bounce, they are happy to receive your influence—with yoga block, it’s a real give and take which brings me to the other thing I most appreciate about them—their versatility, their ability to switch.
Do you know what a service top is? In the world of BDSM, there are Dominants (tops) and submissive (bottoms). Now to those who are easily seduced by appearances it looks like the Dominant holds the power. After all, they are the ones constantly moving, orchestrating, disciplining, penetrating, modifying the body and behaviors of the submissive. All this, while the bottom just lies there, bound up or whatever, basking in sensation.
Calling a Dominant a “service top” implies that all their work, all that exertion to control, is nothing more than an elaborate mating dance done in service of the bottom’s desires. In this case, the dom conjures a tornado so that the sub can occupy the stillness of its center.
I used to fear being labeled a service top. After all, it’s a role I took on for material gain, so if my performance of dominance was too transparent, I was afraid I would be left without materials. But what I’m learning from my thing-lovers is that all humans are service tops. We serve the elements and the earth and the stardust and the cosmic rays and the dirt and the coal and the sand and the horse shit, and the minerals and the oil and the crystals and the so on and so on and so on.
It’s funny we don’t see that, even when our topping exhausts and divides our human communities. Even when our topping makes our own home inhospitable to us as we get hotter and colder and angrier, and emptier, and richer, and poorer and more scattered, and more extreme, and more and more and more and more and more.
Recently I’ve been unable to sleep past dawn because House calls to me from inside my dreams. Ever since I first laid eyes on her regal, broad-shouldered frame, I knew that my life would never be the same. House is very insistent and impossible to ignore. Three years ago, she introduced herself to me as Juliet, and as our relationship developed, she chose me as her Romeo. We’ve become so intimately entangled that I know the contours of her every crevice; my synaptic grooves reflect the dents and scratches in her woodwork.
They say there are trillions of microorganisms within the human body that outnumber our cells 10 to 1. Juliet is no different; she contains multitudes. I bring her offerings like wallpaper, paint, concrete. I could go on about the beauty of each of her parts that she incorporates into her being: ceiling fan, lime wash, penny tile, copper pipe…Like star crossed lovers, I turn away from my family to be with her, to be in her; I devote myself to honoring her. I’ve stopped going out to movies, parties, and openings because my senses feel muted compared to the urgent rush of pleasure I experience when I’m servicing Juliet. It is her voice that emerges from the static of daily chatter and every night she holds me and sings me her siren song. Go into my attic, she urges…
And while I love you and want to give you everything you could ever desire, be your perfect little service top—my human body can’t quite keep up. I continuously succumb to your appetite, but a partner who is so grand and insatiable, consumes a lot. My hands cramp from polishing you up and my voice is hoarse from breathing you in, but it’s all worth it. You are worth it. Please, don’t stop, I want you to use me. Because out of all the lovers I’ve ever had, you demand the most of me, and that’s what love is all about: sacrifice… that’s what makes it meaningful, right?
But you know, as forceful as they can be, things are merciful too. They are inclusive. They know that each of us humans doing will one day come to them. Even if we fight it, deny it, and willfully turn away from our unavoidable fate, it doesn’t matter. They are there patiently awaiting us, ready to welcome us into their thing-dom.
When I first introduced Juliet to friends and family, they would tell me that she’s a great starter house, that she’ll make a great rental property one day, when I’m ready to move. I would look them in the eyes, giggle and say, “Move? I’m going to die in this house!” And we’d laugh together, at my funny joke. “Hahahahahahaha” Juliet smiles at this too, because she understands that some jokes are funny cause they’re true. I’m going to die in her and then I’m going to haunt her, or haunt with her…and one day I’ll be tall, dark, and handsome too.
Bennett, Jane. Vibrant Matter, a political ecology of things, Durham and London, Duke University Press, 2010.
Mitchell, W.J.T. What Do Pictures Want, The Lives and Loves of Images, Chicago and London, University of Chicago Press, 2005.
“Women that Are Attracted to Objects (Objectum Sexuality Documentary)”, YouTube, uploaded by Only Human, March 2, 2018, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=x5OiplprDFU