melanie bonajo: When the body says Yes+
When the body says Yes+ is a solo exhibition of the Dutch artist melanie bonajo (they/them/theirs). The artist is searching for an answer to the question of whether there is still a place for intimacy in our increasingly commercialised and technological world. The central theme of the exhibition is touch, literally, but also touch as our relationship to each other and the world around us. For bonajo, touch can be a powerful remedy for the modern epidemic of loneliness.
melanie bonajo’s work When the body says Yes represented the Netherlands at the Venice Biennale in 2022 and is now touring European museums. In addition to the immersive and sensitive biennale project, the exhibition includes three previous videos to introduce melanie bonajo’s practise more widely. In collaboration with the artist, Théo Demans has created a sensory and playful spatial scenography, through which the worlds created in the videos are transferred to the exhibition space.
Curator Maria Arusoo about the exhibition:
When the body says Yes+ brings together bonajo’s experimental documentaries from the past ten years. The films deal with intimacy and the search for contact through a very wide lens. One of the themes represented is the ecofeminist position in relation to the environment around us, which the artist explores in their early work Matrix Botanica: Biosphere Above Nations (2013). Different generational aspects, including the issues of ageing and loneliness and the “falling out” of society, are explored in Progress vs. Regress (2016). In the film, people close to a hundred years old, who have lived through sweeping industrial, technological and digital changes, discuss how modern inventions have changed social relations and how the myth of progress has influenced and continues to influence attitudes towards work, money, time and human relations.
In the work TouchMETell (2019), bonajo interviews children through play, exploring their understanding of body awareness and gender roles, and the basis on which they decide what is good, what is not and how taboos arise. A continuation of this theme is the work When the body says Yes (2022) created for the Venice Biennale (curators: Orlando Maaike Gouwenberg, Geir Haraldseth and Soraya Pol), which grew out of bonajo’s ongoing research into intimacy, and was directly influenced by the loneliness of the Covid-19 pandemic, where online-only communication created a palpable need for touch. The video follows non-binary and queer-identified people from different cultural backgrounds who share intimate stories about their body experiences and perceptions and create a colourful and pluralistic common space. In this trusting environment, they experiment with touch and closeness to achieve personal and collective harmony.
melanie bonajo on When the body says Yes:
Love is not learned in isolation and, if you have felt it, someone else has probably felt it too. We created a collective spell in the form of a pleasure positive camp, an eco-erotic queer eros, celebrating our kin through skinship. A place of productive chaos and care, where we practised touch tutorials, set boundaries, gave and received consent, drank our own poison at the trigger bar, did weird therapies and acknowledged feelings as valid…
We celebrated the beauty of our own softness, our senses, the portal to the present. Playing with the social conditioning of proximity and distance between bodies, the spaciousness allows for kindness, sensuality, surrender and playfulness. We expanded on sexuality beyond the Western discourse, what our genitals mean to us and others, self-expression as a healing modality, the way our body matrices send and receive information about closeness and touch, and how that is embodied in different language structures. Do you know the sensational dimensions of your No. How do you feel when your body says Yes?
melanie bonajo (they/them/theirs) is a Dutch artist, film-maker, somatic sex coach and educator, cuddle workshop facilitator and activist creating immersive queer spaces. They are interested in communities outside the mainstream, who live or work on the margins of society, either through cultural exclusion or because they do not belong to a normative system. Issues of ethical and empathic coexistence, body politics, equality and alternative forms of perception of the world and oneself are prominent in bonajo’s work.
The exhibition is a continuation of the Estonian-Dutch cooperation at the 59th Venice Art Biennale, when the Netherlands gave its historic pavilion to Estonia to experiment in a new location. From this years-long cooperation between the Dutch Mondriaan Fund and the Estonian Centre of Contemporary Art grew the Kumu Art Museum’s idea of inviting melanie bonajo to Estonia. The exhibition in Kumu has been supported by the Mondriaan Fund.
The total length of the video works is 2 hours and 20 minutes.
Curator: Maria Arusoo
Scenographer: Théo Demans
Graphic design: Ott Metusala
Coordinator: Inga Jaagus
The film When the body says Yes contains images of nudity.