Intimacy and Distances bridges the gap of the pandemic’s isolation

Maiko Jinushi’s exhibit combines a stunning array of poetry, animation, and live recordings

A collage of art pieces from the exhibit.
PHOTO: Amrit Kamaal / The Peak

By: Matthew Wong, SFU Student

From my 224 square-foot tower, I gazed longingly out the window. I was pale and drained, and no visitors came to my room except for three daily meals, unceremoniously slipped through the door. And of course, neither my family nor friends would dare face me; we were in quarantine, and I had contracted COVID-19. 

The days of pandemic shutdown sometimes feel like a distant memory now, even though COVID-19 and its impacts continue to hurt our most vulnerable communities. COVID-19 is not over, but the shutdown of 2020 has created permanent social scars for some. I don’t think anyone will ever forget the isolation and seclusion that came with quarantine.

I recently had the pleasure of visiting Centre A’s exhibit, Intimacy and Distances by Maiko Jinushi, and was in awe of how succinctly and beautifully she had put that isolation into poetic displays of art. Born in 1984 in Kanagawa, Japan, Jinushi quickly found a love for art as a form of expression. With a Master of Fine Arts in painting at Tama University, she currently resides in Tokyo with exhibits appearing around the world. Jinushi expertly weaves words and visual mediums to explore concepts beyond us, and tell the stories of how people live. In an interview, Jinushi told The Peak,For the exhibition, I was thinking about emotions and intimacy through digital technology, which is getting more common in our daily lives.” 

In her highlight piece, Lip Wrap, Air Hug, Energy Exchange, a minimalistic animation plays as a girl laments about the anxiety and isolation she feels from lockdown. Asking herself if it would be possible to connect with people online, she wonders how she can exchange intimacy without physical touch; if there is some “condom for kissing, making it milder and less attached?” The quarantine deprived many of physical closeness, but perhaps the loneliness taught us other ways to connect to each other, much like the girl in this poem. 

The animation is simple in its execution but chock-full of subtle details. Along a blank backdrop, much like empty space, narrow and modest lines meld beautifully with the poem. The conservative use of colour depicts a juxtaposition of intimacy and distance, with black and white drawings symbolizing isolation, and colour adding a spark of connection.

In her piece, A Detective in Mexico City, Jinushi directs a video in which couples are secretly recorded as they walk and hold hands throughout Mexico City, while the poem, Generación de los párpados eléctricos (Generation of Electric Eyelids) by Roberto Bolaño, plays. Later, the same locations are visited, except they’re empty. The duality of intimacy and distance is painfully raw, combined with Bolaño’s poem ranting about an ex-lover. The recordings are done on a shaky phone camera, much like the recorded moments of our own lives. These memories serve as the only proof of the presence of the couples in these places, as the quarantine had long left them deserted.

Despite being connected to each other through the digital world, it can be difficult to bond with others through a screen. We’re not the same people online, and that’s what Jinushi attempted to capture in her piece, Fashion and Death. “I wanted to visualize these multiple personas, like a cubism painting, but with moving image,” she said. She accomplished this by using one actor to play the two roles of Fashion and Death. The actor moves across the camera facing either the audience or a mirror, showing how the two characters are one of the same. Representing separate personas, they go on to tell stories of themselves and their childhoods. For this piece, Jinushi had to quickly return to Japan, so she only had time for one take due to the quarantine, and thus, she gives us a glimpse into the first, unrehearsed rendition of her work. The improvisation is a crucial part of the charm of this piece.

Intimacy and Distances contains a number of other pieces, and this article could never do it justice. So, I encourage you to visit the exhibit yourselves, on until November 10. Jinushi uses words to tell a story, but constructs a far more detailed narrative through images, videos, paintings, and more, which she calls a “visual form of literary experience.” 

Even through physical isolation, I won’t forget the mundane interactions that added sparks of intimacy to my life, nor the connections I made with people. Even if those connections are through my own “electric eyelids,” I still treasure the people that the pandemic brought into my life, and I thank Jinushi for gracefully putting it into art.

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