“So a lot of that was bobbing around my head.”
Originally, Huei’s plan was to go onto dating apps to track down participants. But lockdown restrictions made that tricky, so she found single people within her own network.
She sat down with them and recorded their experience of lockdown, “a chance to reflect on this intense time of enforced loneliness … at a time when there was a huge emphasis on coupledom”.
She got way more than she expected. There were people grieving the loss of a parent or friend, people whose fierce envy of the romantically entangled led them to “just grab strangers off the internet and call them their intimate partner on the first date”.
And there were cute stories of Zoom dates and weird lockdown dates, from that odd time of connection and separation.
“It was almost like some weird artistic therapy,” says Huei. “The moment we got out [of lockdowns] it seemed like no one really wanted to talk about their experiences. We immediately wanted to shove this dark time away and not look at it any more. But there was a sadness that sort of grew within us… and a lot of the people I was talking to felt they’d come out a different person. A bigger person.”
After their chat she’d ask the participants to “impart their kiss onto a petri dish. Taking the rich world inside them, their microbiota, and helping that flourish on a medium.”
The dishes sat around Huei’s studio on warm incubator beds, close to body temperature, like some kind of weird pet or plant collection. And the kisses became constellations. “And I’d photograph them after the culture had bloomed to look like the galaxies within us.”
The exhibition pairs each photograph with a QR code link to a soundbite of the interview, so viewers can make a connection themselves.
And, of course, there’s a flip side. These kisses reveal the micro world that assaulted the macro.
“A kiss used to be such a joyous thing, 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, smelling their pheromones. And maybe this person could be giving you a deadly disease.
“There is an additional layer to intimacy now. That double-edged sword.”
Distant Kisses is supported by the City of Melbourne and shows at City Library Gallery, Flinders Lane, August 4-25.
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