In Huei Yin Wong’s Distant Kisses exhibition, single people kissed petri dishes for art

“So there was a lot going through my head.”

Originally, Huei’s plan was to go on dating apps to track down participants. But lockdown restrictions made that difficult, so she found singles within her own network.

She sat down with them and captured their experience with lockdown, “an opportunity to reflect on this intense time of enforced solitude…at a time when there was a huge emphasis on couple”.

One of the “distance kisses” cultivated by Huei Yin Wong.Credit:Huei Yin Wong

She got much more than she expected. There were those who mourned the loss of a parent or friend, those whose fierce envy of the romantically entangled led them to “just take strangers off the internet and call them their intimate partner on the first date”.

And there were fun stories about Zoom dates and weird lockdown dates, from that strange time of connection and separation.

“It was almost like a strange artistic therapy,” Huei says. “The moment we came out [of lockdowns] it seemed like no one really wanted to talk about their experiences. We wanted to immediately push this dark time away and not look back on it. But there was a kind of sadness that grew in us… and many of the people I spoke to felt like they would come out as a different person. A greater person.”

After their conversation, she asked the participants to ‘give their kiss on a petri dish. Taking in the rich world, their microbiota, and letting it flourish on a medium.”

The signs were placed around Huei’s studio on warm incubators, close to body temperature, like some sort of weird collection of pets or plants. And the kisses became constellations. “And I would photograph them after the culture blossomed to look like the galaxies within us.”

The exhibition links each photo with a QR code link to a sound bite of the interview, so that viewers can make a connection themselves.

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And of course there is a downside. These kisses reveal the micro world that the macro attacked.

“A kiss used to be so happy, you know, you kiss a stranger at a party, how cute. But now this act of intimacy suddenly has a dark side. You could fall in love by getting close to someone and smelling their pheromones. And maybe this person is giving you a deadly disease.

“There is now an extra layer of intimacy. That double-edged sword.”

Distance kisses is supported by the City of Melbourne and is on display at the City Library Gallery, Flinders Lane, August 4-25.

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