'to fall in love, is it so uncool?'
The exhibition PEOPLE LIKE YOU + ME made me think about love and heartbreak, and how we heal. Words by Georgia Mitchell
Julia Howe and Arietta Chandris’ press release for their joint exhibition ‘PEOPLE LIKE YOU + ME’ describes it as ‘a project exploring the ongoing boundaries between intimacy, heartache, lust and limerence’. I had to look up the meaning of limerence for this article; it refers to the obsessive tendencies and rigid fantasising that being in love can engender. Its Google image results include coarsely-made visuals posing ‘Love vs Infatuation’, and a particularly desperate FAQ: ‘How long does limerence last on average?’ Some further reading explains that it subsumes all those sticky and sticking parts of being in love; the co-dependency, the need for validation through romance, the lingering sickness of heartbreak. These are things that have terrified me in myself, when I have been in love. They scare me still. I was immediately attracted to Howe and Chandris’ art when I saw their commitment to these sticking things.
'PEOPLE LIKE YOU + ME' is a joint exploration into loneliness. Howe's photography is heavily populated by queer-presenting bodies, often in public spaces, showing off and out: whilst her poetry is one-sided, quiet and lonely. Voices (or a voice) ask for something like love, and are never fully heard. ‘I look for you, / in the glass…in that red thing / behind walls.’ It obsesses over the void that relationships create, and reminds me that although relationships seem to exist for and within intimacy, intimacy must be sought and is rarely found. Chandris' work centres this notion. Her paintings seem to come from a singular voice, like Howe's poetry, but it is one that despairs less in its solitary state. Looking at her paintings feels like those moments when I feel happy alone; when I am sitting on the bus, lying in my bed, when I have my music on in the kitchen on a weekend morning.
These moments, Chandris allows, are rare and precious. 'Occasionally we let that guard down, and that’s when we can witness moments of fleeting intimacy.' In her archive, a painting of a man and a dog: their intimacy becomes ours, looking, now. Here, remembered intimacy can also be immediate; one painting being exhibited is a still-life of a flower bouquet the painter's dad gave her for Valentine's Day last year (something he does annually). Love lingers and sticks.
In Howe's poetry, love lingers threateningly. It takes up space in your flat, leaves its smell on your sheets. I can’t help but read my own lovesickness into the words ‘if I only looked / behind me / I could savour you moving.’ With the desperation of a Google FAQ: ‘there’s this / and everything else / surely.’ Chandris paints the ‘everything else’. In the months recovering from heartbreak, when the feeling comes back into your fingers. When intimacy ceases to relate to a specific person or people, and sinks into the edges of your life. It can be felt from observation, through friendship, through aloneness.
Chandris often paints on top of newspaper headlines. The paint depicts intimate moments that can alleviate the pain of living in today’s world. This almost seems apolitical, as the ability to ignore current affairs is often conflated with privilege. A subject in one of Howe’s photographs has paper pasted to their skin, with scrawled felt-tip: ‘to fall in love, is it so un-cool?’ I enjoy the near-subversiveness of this image: the queer love depicted in Howe’s photographs is attached to seemingly outmoded language, and there is a sense of guilt for experiencing love in the same way that heterocentric language always told us we would. It is clear, however, that each artists’ work does not stem from apoliticism; if anything, it is the opposite. We, also, deserve the privilege of taking a day, a moment, to ignore the headlines. And whilst these moments may be rare, they are expansive: ‘there’s this / and everything else / surely.’
‘PEOPLE LIKE YOU + ME’ is showing at East London Liqour Company from the 14th – 16th February, with a private view on the evening of the 12th February.
Copyright Julia Howe 2020
Untitled (SeSu), 2018
All copyright Arietta Chandris 2018, 2019
All photographs copyright Julia Howe 2020