Posted on August 12, 2020
As many continue to practice social distancing around the world, we hear from bani haykal, artist included in Seeing Sound curated by Barbara London. Based in Singapore, haykal thinks through notions of intimacy during isolation.
NO FUTURE SHOULD BE VOID OF INTIMACY
By bani haykal
I hope this text finds you well and in best of health.
How are you doing amidst the current lockdowns occurring?
The past year has been a rather tumultuous one, when all things seasonal kicks in and refuses to leave, it gets paralyzing and on my best days, I strive to pull it together and hide the darkness.
If we have not spoken for sometime, I want to share some things I’ve been thinking through and working with as a means of resolving some of the most destabilizing anxieties relating to the future. One of my ongoing works has been to look at what encryption / encrypting means in relation to care and intimacy.
Encryption is a process and spirit that is pretty much all around us these days. From our daily messages via applications like WhatsApp or Telegram to bank records, we understand and know of encryption as a mechanism of security. I suppose what I’ve been obsessing over is to push this to one radical conclusion, which is to suggest encryption as a form of care. Encryption as a process of intimacy.
I’ve been thinking about and diving deeper into human-machine intimacy. I’ve recently resolved what intimacy is or how I’m reconfiguring the notion of intimacy. In Malay / Bahasa Melayu, intimacy can be transliterated to the word “intim,” which means pretty much what you’d understand of the English word, intimacy. But there is also another word that’s used to describe intimacy as we currently understand it, the word is mesra.
bani haykal, piece from the series isolated futures 4, 2020. Courtesy of the artist.
Mesra represents joyousness or closeness between two people, a state of happiness / shared relations, but in the culinary arts, mesra represents a state of absorption or blending. When addressing how different ingredients mix together, much like making pancake batter, mesra is used to suggest a new state of consistency, “..gaul sampai mesra..” is often used to say to mix ingredients until you get a particular or specific consistency.
The poetics of the Malay language teaches me that intimacy, joyousness, closeness and a state of being together, is an act of transformation. It is a process of absorbing and changing the state of two bodies into a new one.
Our intimacy with machine is precisely that. We’ve reacted, absorbed, transformed and altered parts of ourselves and our machines to reach a new state / body altogether.
In the wake of our current pandemic, our machine-selves have become increasingly busy, parsing and ploughing through volumes of data, networks, servers and profiles at the interest of sustaining our physical, mental and emotional selves in this potentially claustrophobic and confining times. If it’s any consolation, our machine-selves are spared of this virus, but not our physical-selves. For some of us and in some instances, parts of our machine-selves are already automated, either responding or reacting to other cues and prompts virtually, almost as if a part of us are spared from the pandemic.
But for most of us, self-automation isn’t a reality we’ve had access to. Many of my closest friends and family are artists / musicians, and almost everyone has lost jobs since. But lost opportunities aside, the current survival guide and strategy for me at least, has more to do with how we can further become mesra with one another, sustaining bodies through shared resources and developing new ecologies for our cyborgian futures. How can our machine-selves resuscitate our wetware, almost as if it were an overriding prompt to protect us, to care for us?
In one of my most recent performances, I did a live streamed event from National Gallery Singapore, where I reflected on the kind of isolation and distance most of us are experiencing, and how our machine-selves are taking over more diligently, if I’m being optimistic, to allow us a moment to hibernate. As always, I suppose my question is never about where we go from here, but how else can we move away from where we are to conceive and build new fluid futures and normalcy to care for one another, between and across (machine-physical) selves?
I am not interested in when this chaos will resolve, but what new strategies and politics are needed to fight for new horizons that is far more distributed in the way we breathe / live easy and with dignity. When we find a resolve for this chaos, I hope to be part of this new micro-cosmology where the focus is less generative, more reparative, where interactions are intimate in order to transform one another.
Intimacy is no longer just about being “close” to someone or just a sense of familiarity, intimacy or mesra is about transformation with care. It is about blending and absorbing one another to become something else, much like encryption, where information entangles itself with an algorithm to develop / reach a new state or body, hopefully impenetrable.
No future should be void of intimacy.
better days ahead,
About bani haykal:
Encompassing several disciplines including installation and performance, haykal’s interest lies at the intersection of political economy, music and speculative fiction. Working with a broad range of instruments, from acoustic to digital, traditional and hacked, his projects revolve around modes of interfacing and interaction. He is a member of b-quartet and Soundpainting ensemble Erik Satay & The Kampong Arkestra. haykal has presented works at institutions such as the Substation Gallery, Platform 3, Institute of Contemporary Art Singapore, and 8Q@SAM. He was an artist-in-residence at the NTU-Centre for Contemporary Art Singapore where he conducted research on the Cultural Cold War, identifying the politics of the internationalisation of Jazz music, its relationship with freedom, whilst reflecting on the present methods of promoting democracy and capitalism through digital technology. As a composer and performer, he has collaborated with Ho Tzu Nyen, Teater Ekamatra, the Dance Company, Raka Maitra, and The Necessary Stage among other artists and musicians. haykal has also participated in festivals including Les Hivernales: Avignon, Media/Art Kitchen, RRREC FEST, Liquid Architecture, da:ns Festival and The M1 Fringe Festival. Aside from his practice as an artist, haykal has curated projects relating to sound and music, including Tribal Gathering of Tongue Tasters (The Substation, 2012 – 2013), SOUND: Latitudes and Attitudes (Earl Lu Gallery, Institute of Contemporary Art Singapore, 2014); co-curated with Joleen Loh and Aural Narratives (National Gallery Singapore, 2015). He is currently an Associate Artist with Singapore theatre company, The Necessary Stage.