Janine Antoni is best known for process-oriented work in which she uses parts of her body. Often performing everyday activities such as chewing, sleeping, walking, or peeing to create her work, Antoni examines issues like materiality, process, the body, and cultural perceptions of femininity, power, and intimacy.
Putting bodies at risk, tightrope acts engender anxiety and tension in the onlooker, all the while teasing us with the promise of entertainment. Having become popular roughly when cinematic spectacles began to engage audiences’ hunger for spectacles, tightrope acts have always conjured up images of people attempting to defy gravity, be they people trying to fly off church steeples in homemade flying machines, climb skyscrapers, or balance on a rope across Niagara Falls. The video shows the artist, dressed in sky blue, walking a tightrope along a beach, dipping down to the horizon line as Antoni reaches the middle of the screen. Balancing on a tightrope has a number of metaphorical meanings that relate to states of equilibrium, stability, control, and calmness—as well as their opposites. Balance is a desired state of perfection to most of us. When Antoni was learning to balance on a tightrope, she realized that “rather than seeing balance as a perfect state, I have learned how to trust the play between balance and imbalance.” The play between two opposites imbues Touch with a sense of meditative calmness and oneness with nature, illustrating Antoni’s idea that “walking the wire is a lesson in interconnection.”
The video was filmed at the seashore directly behind Antoni’s childhood home on the island of Grand Bahama. As the breaking waves gently lick the beach beneath, Antoni enters from outside the frame to walk the wire that runs parallel to the horizon line. Under the artist’s weight, the wire dips ever so briefly to touch the horizon, making her seemingly walk on water, as she becomes one with the landscape, establishing a much different relationship with the spectator than, for instance, a landscape painting. Functioning as a window onto the world, a painting creates distance, positioning the viewer at a fixed vantage point. Antoni’s nine-minute video Touch, on the other hand, generates nearness. Touch produces a tangible connection between vision and memory, suggesting a model of active corporeal perception.
Curator of Modern and Contemporary Art