An Essay on Intimacy by Tommy Xin

Tommy Xin

Intimacy Statement

As the art historian Anne Helmreich once said, “Exhibitions have long been a key strategy for the display of artistic production to the public to facilitate article commentary and commodity consumption as well as to construct artistic reputation.” This article questions the body, the mind, their influence on art and the importance of intimacy throughout the different pieces reviewed.

We discover the journey of the young artist Tommy Xin trying find his own voice, one artist, one exhibition and one piece at the time.

Where I used to live, my sexual orientation was not accepted. Since I have been studying in England I have learned to embrace it, as I feel free to do so in this open-minded country. I decided to do some research and to explore different themes in art such as sexual behaviour and bipolar personalities. Eventually, my research led to my interest in focusing on one particular theme: the body.

The body can be the source of all human issues but it is also a complex structure that hides different elements within it.  The skin, which acts like an outfit for our flesh, is especially important. It allows us to communicate, as we can feel each other through the touch of skin. What makes us unique as individuals is our own body and skin which differentiates us from others. Its roughness, softness or different textures are there since the day we were created and it is a perfect example of our differences even if we have many similarities.

In my opinion, to understand human perception of our world we must consider our emotions and feelings as humans. As we are all different, we each have our own perception of reality and time.

I have always admired artists who are able to do beautiful yet painful things to their body for the purpose of art. Here are a four artists who have done wonderful pieces using their body and each one of them has inspired my art works.

“One Year Performance 1980-1981 (Time Clock Piece)” is a new exhibition by Tehching Hsieh which takes place at the Tate Modern museum in London. Tehching Hsieh is a Taiwanese artist who has created some of the most extreme performances of art ever made. Most of his exhibitions combine art, life and time and are the fruit of a year of work. For this particular exhibition, he punched a clock every hour, denying himself consistent sleep for a year in order to investigate the nature of time. The 8,627 mugshot-style pictures taken over the course of 12 months show how he was affected by the performance and that the  time can visibly be seen passing on his skin. By experiencing time through extreme boredom, he materializes it and uses his body as a medium to project it onto himself.

Tehching Hsieh, “ TIME CLOCK” 1980-1981

Gina Pane produced amazing works of art with her body as part of the 1970’s body art movement in France. “Sentimental action” is a series of black and white photographs contained in an original blue cloth box ; a device that influenced a lot how I produced my art. Pane, dressed in all white, takes a bouquet of eight white roses and cuts herself on the arm with their stems.  The blood that drips out of her arm on to the bouquet turn the roses red. She then also cuts herself with a razor blade. With her performance, through this physical pain and the self-inflicted wounds, she refers to her mental suffering. She stimulates her senses that bring her emotions to another state -- not only the physical but also the spiritual. Some people may feel disturbed when watching her performance, but I personally feel a strong connection to it. She reminds me of dark times in my life when, the only way to express the intangible agony surrounding me and the empty sorrow within me, was to project my negative feelings onto my body by hurting it.

Gina Pane was my inspiration  for a recent video I produced in which I followed the same concept. I cut my palm with a blade until I could not take the pain anymore. It is a reflection on my mental state at that time; when I felt like an outsider and I could not find my place in such a big city in which I felt lost.


The number of art galleries is always growing in London and a world leading gallery “Frieze” has opened there.
The Frieze Art Fair is a contemporary art fair that takes place every year in Regent's Park. I had heard of their amazing art and decided to go this year. The fair was impressive with spectacular sculptures surrounding the main building in which I spent four hours going through every piece of work that caught my eye. One particular section called “sex work” was dedicated to female artists doing feminist art since 1960. These artists, who were not assimilated into mainstream narrative of feminist art, have had a huge impact on the feminist practices of today.

Birgit Jürgenssen, an Austrian artist, caught my attention with a self-portrait and photo series on female body art.  She was exhibiting pieces of her Polaroid series in which she painted on her skin, put animal skulls on her head, or posed in front of a death mask cast from her own face and painted with skeleton features. Her work refers to the way women in Austria were considered from a patriarchal folklore perspective.  She depicts the opposite of the beliefs and proves with her art and body  that women are neither fearful of death nor a source of fatal disease. During  the 1960s, being expressive with your body, especially as a womean, was transgressive and against the rules. That is why her work interests me as she embraces her gender, sexuality, and explores the female body to break the rules imposed by society.


Throughout her performance, she builds an  intimate connection with her body and gains,  a better understanding of it as she uses it to express her  thoughts. Her body acts like a mask she uses as a form of art to communicate implicitly her feelings. This metaphor of the mask inspired me in the production of one of my videos in which I used a mask as another identity to hide the real feelings that make me insecure. I wanted to show that even if my sexuality was fully accepted in England, the self-doubt that I had built up living with my traditional family back home still bothered me. I had learned for so many years that being a homosexual made me a bad person and so I wore a mask to hide who I truly was , until I came to London. The mask I wear when I am at home, which makes me a different person, is to prevent my family from being hurt by the fact that I am gay.

Tommy Xin

Naotaka Hiro is a Japanese artist whom I also discovered during the Frieze art fair in London. His work mainly  revolves around the body and its mysteries. With a minimalist aesthetic, Hiro’s work leads us to reflect on how we perceive our body and to ask ourselves if we really know it. One sculpture in particular  intrigued me. It was composed of two thin casts of the artist’s body from his hands to his toes. The cast formed a gesture where the two hands, on top on top of one another, surrounded a non-existant head. The artist chose to leave the inner space of the sculpture empty. It is an intriguing choice as the core of the body is usually what allows it to function. This particular piece of work helped me in my own reflection on the importance of the mind versus the physical aspects of our bodies.

Lastly, the Whitechapel Gallery on High Street in London had an exhibition  called “ISelf Collection: The End of Love”. It questions once a gain the body, the way we build our own identity through others with  love, friendship, etc. One piece by Fiona Banner, an English artist who was shortlisted for the Turner Prize in 2002, appealed to me straight away.  The written piece called  “nude standing” narrates a detailed description of a nude woman. The text, which  is simply written with a pencil on a white piece paper, describes many details of the woman which allows you to paint a clear picture of her in your mind. While reading the text, an intimacy is built because you feel as if you were observing the model and getting to understand her body. An interaction is created between the viewers and the art itself ; every word is a piece of the puzzle your mind is trying to finish throughout the reading.


Text by Tommy Xin @tommyxiexin
Edited by Tessa Mack

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