A common custom of drawing a cross or X at the end of a letter was placed to demonstrate faithfulness. A kiss was then placed upon the cross to take an oath. The intimacy of the spit mailed to another as exchange.
Sealed with a Kiss
Sofia Pia Belenky & Anna-Luise Lorenz
I sealed my letters today with my spit. Roses cut from a supply chain. Millions unsold pile into new mountains that will then rot back into the soil. Due to the virus, their transportation and trade have been stopped, yet the flowers continue to grow. It cannot be turned off. A symbol of love and romance, perishable goods with a temporary shelf life. I am acutely aware these days of the speed of growth. Never before have I noticed the precise amount of time my fingernails grow. So far, I have resisted cutting my own hair. I sleep when tired, eat when hungry, move when stiff and in doing so a new rhythm emerges of the day. I have entered into a personal time zone. It’s only you that sometimes shares these sleepless nights with me as we lay awake FaceTiming until the sun begins to rise. Celebrating each hour passing as a new year. The speed of the day is such that I also watch the plants grow, it is spring now and I swear one can hear the leaves growing and buds exploding in this silence. The plants carry on their cycles of life and growth despite the world coming to a halt. I lie in the garden naked pretending to be a plant because they are the only thing alive that I interact this closely with. I am a houseplant with more complicated emotions.
Should I care?
But the transmission happens when the air is poisoned; when the air becomes an element that changes and rots, and we are the ones who breathe. That’s why the rotten air, when sucked by breath into the body, poisons the ones of a young age [...].(1)
Do I care?
Tears are expressions that belong to the past. Careful breathing is allowed, directed inwards. Self-inhalation. Only spilling eyes remain: Two vitreous bodies voicing trembling words, their juiciness spitting of desire. Skin that sees. Skin that spills. They inhale your anti-aliased shape. They suck your stuttered movement. They lick your color palette:
Yesterday when taking my longest route possible to the grocery store I saw a couple kiss. They both wore masks and he tenderly kissed her forehead before noticing me. He seemed almost embarrassed to be caught in the act. These days kissing is banned. I was struck by how foreign this act of public intimacy appeared. When was the last time I had even seen two people walking near one another - closer than the now standardized measure of 1 meter apart? Remember hellos of double cheek kisses, remember steamy make-out sessions outside at a crowded bar? He smiled at me and said something about love and then laughed. We all smiled, at least I think so because now we smile with our eyes. They continued walking in the opposite direction. I wanted to run after them and tell them how it had been the most beautiful thing I had seen all day, that I wanted to take their portrait and ask for them to repeat that moment so that I could have it always, selfishly I wanted to be a part of that too.
Maintaining the best possible constitution of the body is an important part of medicine. Other influences are adventitious, and cannot be foreseen; such are swords and wild beasts. Medicine is not concerned with preventing the effects of such agents in advance.(2)
As part of my first quarantine exercise, I started sketching out my room into potential danger zones and time scales, introducing preventive measures that might cause unbalanced conditions, in particular of my body liquids. I would counteract overabundance of fluids through sweating, reduced food intake, and vomiting. Bodies of such qualities are least affected by harmful influences since their temperaments are perfectly balanced and removed from all extremes.(3)
Imbalance would lead to disease, discharge to contagion.
Ventilation systems, pipe systems, and windows are equally closed as are body holes. “But the transmission happens when the air is poisoned; when the air becomes an element that changes and rots, and we are the ones who breathe. That’s why the rotten air, when sucked by breath into the body, poisons the ones of a young age”, I repeat for myself. While formulating these words in my head, droplets pin to the fabric of my mask. I hold my breath, but soon realize that I have to compromise between hygiene management and a minimum of corporeal existence.
The night you walked to my house, masked wearing black, staying in the shadows to avoid a fine. It was a grand gesture and it felt naughty in what I thought would be a sexy kind of risqué way. While we made dinner, we kept our distance in a sort of dance around the kitchen, trying to respect the rules of which we had already broken. Dinner turned into bottles of wine turned into kissing turned into sex… after which I burned up in a hot fever. Anxiety flooded my mind – had I just contracted the virus? Could its effects be felt this instantly? Why had I been so impulsive, in the heat of the moment left myself unprotected, exposed, and now would I fall ill? You reassured me that - no I was fine, that we just had sex, that the room was warm, that the blankets were heavy. In truth maybe I had already gotten too good at being alone. Gotten used to my own heat, my own smells, and the new loudness of quiet. I lay awake all night in a hot panic. Our body temperatures are measured, and we look all red. False results but when I think of you now, I blush. Hot for you, love-sick, falling is a sort of pain. Should we hold hands wearing gloves? The smell of latex gloves brings memories of condoms. Kissing through the bubble. Your hands sanitized and wet before touching mine. We used to shake hands to represent trust, to affirm a transaction. What will become of the kiss and other protocols of affection? I am so aware of my breath under the mask, its heat, its smell, I feel alive and deadly.
“Your soft tissues look very symmetric today, your skin tone slightly brighter.” A window pops up. “You will be ready for the room”, you say with a soft gentle voice. And I know you are right. I am in my ovulation days.
I enter the room. Rooms. This is what they are called these days. Not windows, windows without a room, but a room with only windows.
They believe it is a gift to be closed into a homogenous space with ones of the same kind. All of us in the room have been temporarily removed from the public network. Our sexual attraction is too intense in this moment of our recurring biological cycle. We are removed for our pleasure, and public safety.
(I feel slight sexual arousal. You have given your best attention to my physical features when restlessly monitoring the network for agents like me. Since I am locked into an insular physical space, compressed into the physicality of my body I am even susceptible to machinic attention.)
One meter apart. I am removed to a distance from you, not avoiding you, not separate from you. Yet I constantly look for you in my mind, where you have physically implanted yourself into my brain. I am thinking about you alllll the time. Your name is constantly in my mouth. Your image I can recall though I have never met you, your voice I hear though I have never heard you. Touchscreen intimacy. Swiping as caress. Can you feel chemistry through a screen? The serendipity of love at first sight or first swipe. The scroll on the phone is endless. Likes, Hearts, kisses. Emoji. A heartbeat-like pulse of Instagram likes, lighting up the phone. I read today that the heart’s magnetic field envelops our internal cells and extends out in all directions into the space around us. It can be measured several feet away from the body by sensitive magnetometers. It is the strongest rhythmic field produced by the human body. I feel this so much lately. The presence of my heart, the amount of space it takes up in the room, and how it works to keep me alive so that I can be here when you get home.
Day 1: 20 eyes are blinking. I am blinking back. Irreversible, pure biological attraction surrounds me. It’s the maximum biology can spit out me in these weeks of absolute loneliness. I am sick of tired, sad, devastated, indifferent faces. Sterile allures churn body juices into a monitored seethe. I want sex. They all want sex.
Day 2: 20 eyes are blinking. I know their eyes are staring at me, only me, all of them at once. It makes me think of my cat when I was in my young fertile ages. Back then, getting undressed in front of him (yes, it was a male cat) made me shiver of discomfort. Does he marvel at my physical features with his patient, wide-opened eyes? Does he, covered in fur, know the meaning of bare skin at all?
A storm of heart emojis is flying over the screen’s disinfected surface. 20 times unobstructed, indiscreet attention all of the sudden invades my domestic territory. No words are said, but 20 eyes spill desire. I can feel the heat increasing in my face, following a neurological chain reaction. An abnormal quantity of flows. Do I have to take off the mask to show this physical effect?
Day 3: “If I were alone, would the world still consist of representations? If there were none to tell me that there was something different, wouldn’t the world just be exactly as it is?” In the corner of my eye, something nodded. “Wouldn’t neoliberalists continue thinking that neoliberalism was great if everyone were a neoliberalist?” I notice another spark of affirmation. I imagine their hearts throbbing in the same rhythm as mine, and I feel comfort in this unified space.
You all of a sudden react with disgust. “Unexpected behavior. Your time is off”.
I drove to the grocery store with the windows down and played a love song loud from the speakers. (I know many of these stories involve the grocery store – it is the only place I am allowed). I was smiling thinking of you and about the way the light hit the trees and the small freedom of the wind in my hair and the speed of driving, even if just for 5 minutes down the street. I was smiling maybe too big and without a mask. When I arrived at the stoplight, a woman crossing the street flipped me off angrily. I should not be happy at times like these, I should not smile, I should not be in love. It should not be spring - as this is a time for mourning and of death. We are inappropriate in these feelings for one another, but I cannot contain myself. I think the sun and happiness can also be carriers of health. I think I could live on your love alone. A full-time job being infatuated by you. What a troublesome employment is this love! What a privilege to have this love and this health. I do not take it for granted. Am I being too romantic?
1) Joseph Grünpeck (de Burckhausen), Libellus Josephi Grünbeckii de mentulagra alias morbo gallico (Memmingen, 1503): “Aber die pestilentz geschicht, wenn der lyfft vergyyftet ist; wann der lufft ist ein element, daz sich bald verändert und faulet, vnd wir seyen thyer, die ätmen. Darumb der faul lufft, wenn er durch den atem wirt hynein gezogen in den leyb, vergyfftet er die jun wenigen ding, vnd nach dem etlich leyb mer geschickt sind, etlich mynder, darumb sterben die selbigen vnd die anderen nicht.” (English translation by Anna-Luise Lorenz). Old German translation quoted in Fuchs, Conrad Heinrich, Die ältesten Schriftsteller über die Lustseuche in Deutschland von 1495 bis 1510, nebst mehreren Anecdotis späterer Zeit, gesammelt und mit literarhistorischen Notizen und einer kurzen Darstellung der epidemischen Syphilis in Deutschland (Göttingen: Verlag der Dieterichscen Buchhandlung,1843), 48. https://dlcs.io/pdf/wellcome/pdf-item/b21714083/0
2) Peter Brain, Galen’s Pathology: Concepts and Contradictions. (PhD diss., University of Natal, 1982), 33. http://citeseerx.ist.psu.edu/viewdoc/download?doi=10.1.1.870.2668&rep=rep1&type=pdf
3) Brain, Galen’s Pathology, 32.
Sofia Pia Belenky
Sofia Pia Belenky is an architect from New York currently based in Milan, Italy. She completed her BFA at Bard College in 2011 and continued her studies at the Graduate School of Architecture, Planning and Preservation at Columbia University, the Architectural Association and Strelka Institute. Sofia Pia works as a researcher and designer with Space Caviar, and previously collaborated with a number of offices in New York, London, and Paris. Her work with Space Caviar uses built work, event, and exhibition design, research, writing, and film as forms of an extended mode of architectural practice.
Anna-Luise Lorenz is a speculative designer, researcher, and artist based in Berlin. Her inquiry-based work – often grounded in collaboration with experts from disciplines such as philosophy, anthropology, psychology, and natural history – oscillates around the corrupting forces of "reality" which find expression in the anomalies of empiricism and rationalism: the weird, the absurd, or the enigmatic processes within biological and technological systems. Through a wide range of media such as performance, installation, animation, and writing she explores the human and non-human body as a pivotal point for the emergence of new hybrid beings, and accidental or deliberate non-human design practices.
Notable exhibitions include The Outside Inside at Futurium Museum of the Future Berlin (GER); Breaking Bread at the 26th Biennial of Design Ljubljana (SLO); Crosstalk International Video Art Festival, Budapest (HU); The Economics of Uncertainty, Swiss Pavilion, Venice Biennale of Architecture (IT); Science of Fiction, USC Cinematic Arts, Los Angeles (US); Shush, panke.gallery, Berlin (GER); and Out of Stasis, Acud Gallery, Berlin (GER).