by Vit Van Camp
To see the work by Veronika Romhány, click HERE.
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.”
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 come to occupy the symbolic position of the “subject supposed to know,” nudging its subjects and potential consumers toward acknowledging their psychological ineptitudes and idiosyncrasies, its invisible hand all the while offering remedies in the form of mythified products and pre-fab identities. Veronika’s Please Do Not Touch in this way offers 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. Thank you, Doctor, for this appointment.
In Please Do Not Touch, it is however the therapist’s story which remains unheard, being lost in transcription, translation, sublimation, irrelevance. The 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 an 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. But one soon realizes that there is ultimately nothing to piece together – there is no exalted Doctor to fill in the narrative’s gaps, there is no Master discourse to shore up the writhing strands of our own drive towards semiosis, towards giving the work a meaning for ourselves. Evoking Haraway’s cyborg, the mechanical voice lures us towards acknowledging the intimate reality of our own partial existence, forcing us to reflect on the myriad promiscuous couplings which thrive around us and parasite within us. Mental health is always a gradient.
There is an uneasy form of transference which occurs between the viewer and the work’s protagonist – the mechanical entity whose biometric specs and internal flow of consciousness are on full display, who is being denuded directly before the viewers’ eyes, her train of thought and her virtual body fully exposed, splayed across the flickering screens. With the realization that the piece is self-consciously a part-object, the affective circuit closes in on itself: like the protagonist, the spectator sits in the psychoanalyst’s chair while also being the patient nestled upon the analyst’s couch – the spectator writes listlessly in their notebook, while at the same time 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 with the cyborg and realize that they, in fact, know the solipsism of a cybernetic existence all too well; that they are also their own analyst, their own second-order observer, their own Big Daddy Mainframe.
Veronika’s piece in this way 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 environment, and to touch with trembling fingers our own fractured sense of being in the world. With the understanding of bodies as terminals, as functional nodes for myriad flows, the affective categories of health and illness, functionality and neurosis, mania 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.
A version of this paper was used as accompanying text for the Please Do Not Touch exhibition at Horizont Gallery, Budapest in April, 2018.