A Note of Interest: Please Do Not Touch (2017)
Scrawled upon the wall of one Prague café, a venue located just around the corner from where Veronika Romhány lived and worked during her recent Agosto Foundation residency, is a maxim which bears repeating: “AVOID FREUD.” Apart from the funny rhyme and even more humorous placement just above a lonely cornered urinal, such a warning carries a prescient message, and the bonmot could easily find a place flickering alongside the neon Ano/Ne (Yes/No) sign in Romhány’s work Please Do Not Touch (2017).
Traces of psychoanalytic thought can still be found in some of the Western markets’ most formative fields – design, marketing and advertising, the entertainment industry, Human Resources… The market has, in a way, come to occupy the symbolic position of the so-called “subject supposed to know,” nudging its users and potential consumers toward acknowledging their psychological ineptitudes and failings, its invisible hand all the while offering remedies in the form of mythified products and pre-fab identities. Veronika’s work thus constitutes an explicit commentary on an old Freudian, ur-phallic story, putting the two characters of the ‘hysteric’ woman-machine and the Doctor in direct contact once again, except now the rules of the old game have shifted. It is now the therapist’s story which remains unheard, being lost in transcription, translation, sublimation, irrelevance. Thank you, Doctor, for this appointment.
The mechanical protagonist’s angular monologue seems to pose a challenge to the viewer to piece together the whole exchange, the whole psychoanalytic scene, and to craft for it a fitting and personal imaginary context. As spectators, we are offered only a loose assemblage – three video channels and one half of a conversation which we are inclined to compile into a meaningful whole. There is, however, nothing to piece together – there is no exalted Doctor to fill in the narrative’s gaps, there is no Master discourse to shore up our own fractured ego. Like Haraway’s cyborg, the mechanical voice lures us towards acknowledging the intimate, oftentimes repressed reality of our partial existence, forcing us to reflect on the myriad promiscuous couplings which thrive around us and parasite within us.
There is an uneasy form of transference which occurs between the work’s narrative protagonist and the viewer. The virtual narrator seems to be a mechanical entity whose biometric specs and internal mental processes are on full display. The protagonist is thus being denuded directly before the viewers’ eyes, her train of thought and her virtual body fully exposed, splayed across the flickering screens. The affective circuit has closed in on itself – like the protagonist, the viewer sits in the psychoanalyst’s chair while also being the patient nestled upon the analyst’s couch – the viewer writes listlessly in their notebook, while at the same time they are lying on the sofa, struggling to fulfill nebulous expectations on their own behalf. By unraveling the fibrous strands of the machinic narrator’s mind and virtual body, the viewer is invited to commune for a while with the cyborg and realize that they, in fact, know the joy and pain of a solipsistic cybernetic existence all too well; that they are also their own analyst, their own second-order observer, their own patriarchal super-ego.
Veronika’s piece thus foregrounds a pressing need for a shift in the approach to mental hygiene and care; it challenges our latent sense of indignation at being cut through and abducted by ready-made, hand-held apps to scale up to the realities of a technologically wired world, and to touch with trembling fingers our own fractured sense of being in the world. With the shift toward understanding human bodies as terminals, as functional nodes for myriad flows and affects, the affective categories of health and illness, functionality and neurosis, activity and depression experience a seismic shift as well. As the protagonist of Please Do Not Touch intones: I am the gap – I am full introspection… somewhere between codes and melody.
I am ok.
I am ok.
I am ok…
Take care of your selves.
by Vít Bohal