The Thinking Behind “Public Displays”
Thomas Edison's 20-second, 35mm Kinetograph film of the actress May Irwin and actor John C. Rice performing a kiss in 1896 is known as the first on-screen kiss in film history. But what does it mean to perform a kiss in the first place? Irwin and Rice were clearly performing—in fact, their kiss was a reenactment of a moment in a New York stage comedy, “The Widow Jones,” that the two were performing in at the time. Actors and actresses frequently perform kisses. Do we? When we kiss in private, in public, or in some in-between spaces, do we alter our actions for a perceived audience, even if it is for the person we are kissing? This installation ponders such questions in the digital, post-privacy, exhibitionist age that we all, like it or not, inhabit.
As the New York World reported in their April 26, 1896 coverage of The Kiss, "six hundred different phases of a kiss leave little to the imagination."
Although playful and meant to be an enjoyable experience for the filmed and for gallery visitors, this installation intends to explore ideas about intimacy, privacy, theatricality, sexuality, and the way that people display affection in an age of digital circulation. At a time when we share so much about our lives online, how does it feel to do something as intimate as a kiss in front of a camera, and then to have that act projected to an audience?