Lisa Freeman, Approx 1 Second of a Sweet Kiss, Temple Bar Gallery + Studios, Dublin, 22 March–26 May 2024

The intimate gestures and cerebral dialogue unfolding throughout Lisa Freeman’s Approx 1 Second of a Sweet Kiss, a five-channel 4K film installation at Temple Bar Gallery + Studios, create an atmosphere of soft inscrutability. The film follows an Irish tourist drifting around a Portuguese city, paying keen attention to the slow movements of the three Portuguese women she meets there and the hushed, sometimes hurried words exchanged. The installation plays with distance, presenting both a flattened screen work and an embodied viewing experience, putting the audience in the position of an active observer.

Installation view of Lisa Freeman, Approx 1 Second of a Sweet Kiss (2023–24)
Five-channel 4K film installation with stereo sound, 13min with 3min intermission
Photo: Ros Kavanagh
Courtesy the artist and Temple Bar Gallery + Studios

Approx 1 Second of a Sweet Kiss was originally commissioned by aemi and Sirius Arts Centre in 2023, with an initial showing as a single-channel film at Cork International Film Festival late last year. The installation at Temple Bar Gallery + Studios responds subtly to the gallery-as-site, building on Freeman’s earlier site-specific work, Slipped, Fell and Smacked My Face Off the Dance Floor (2022), which comprised a scripted performance (and subsequent film) at Naylor’s Cove in Bray. For the new installation, five differently sized screens on chrome poles are directed towards the centre of the gallery, creating several porous sight-lines. The peripheral flicker of movement on the street is often visible. The smallest of these screens is installed against the window between the gallery and street, inviting closer inspection, causing passersby or the occasional busker to momentarily loom large beside the characters in the film, becoming unknowing participants in documentary shots of anonymous crowds in the Portuguese city.

The film has a non-linear narrative, in one scene the women sip coffee in a bustling square, in other moments the protagonist interacts with the strangers on the street, at first encountering two of them together. Later, she speaks with one of the strangers about her luggage and the emotional baggage carried when spending time in another country and another language. Towards the end of the work, all three strangers slope around the protagonist’s apartment, dancing in front of the television, while she sings fully clothed in the shower. A three-minute intermission of gentle music with loosely moving rosy colours sets up an introspective atmosphere before the rhythm of the loop begins again. Multiple screens harmonise with the same content, then fall out of sync or lose focus entirely, with close-up impressionistic shots of blurry wisps of hair or a lattice work of bricks augmenting the attention Freeman extends to both interior and exterior urban space. The main narrational plot, shot at a more comfortable distance, jumps between screens, encouraging the audience to pivot. The flat glass and metallic surfaces of the gallery conjure an antithetical architecture to the ‘cosiness’ and comfort longed for by the protagonist.

Lisa Freeman, Approx 1 Second of a Sweet Kiss (still), 2023–24
4k video, 13 min
Courtesy the artist

The film’s tone is bright, with highly stylised interior sets and costumes that build coherence amid the disorientation of the installation and narrational structure. The apparently casual and highly delicate costume design points to an ongoing interest on Freeman’s part in how clothing can be used to perform and interpret selfhood, on and offline – in this case particularly for women. The characters’ outfits blend the ultra-feminine, such as the floral brocade of a slip dress with workwear: cardigans, soft tailoring, and knee length skirts. The mirrored silver of the protagonist’s handbag and her blocky trainers reflect trends which display both nostalgia for the recent past as well as traces of the futuristic. Details such as the colour-coordinated diaphanous fabric of the strangers’ blouses also suggest a constructed reality, hinting at a distance between audience and work, performer and person.

Throughout the film, Freeman has created a visual language reminiscent of luxe-influencer and lifestyle aesthetics, where soft neutral colours are often diffused by sunlight. This lightness is undercut by the ideas of failure discussed by the characters, a juxtaposition that seems reminiscent of Sunshine Noir, a genre of literature, television, and film that combines the apparently happy, sun-drenched vibrancy of glamorous settings with sinister events and troubled pasts. [1]

Installation view of Lisa Freeman, Approx 1 Second of a Sweet Kiss (2023–24)
Five-channel 4K film installation with stereo sound, 13min with 3min intermission
Photo: Ros Kavanagh
Courtesy the artist and Temple Bar Gallery + Studios

Approx 1 Second of a Sweet Kiss considers screens, mobile phones, and selfies as ritually boring artefacts with the potential to historicise the present. The film is punctuated by several technological interventions. In one scene, a dusty television on mute displays a video of Lana Del Rey singing, an ‘image of a moment bathed in a light that is its alone’ to borrow Annie Ernaux’s phrase, from her collective feminist autobiography, to describe those images which follow us, both ordinary and imaginary, and then inexplicably vanish. [2] In another, a woman stops the tourist and asks her to take a photo. The women being photographed begin to move slowly and in unison, snaking toward the floor, before wrapping the tourist in a long embrace. The softness of slowed movements like these become motifs in an embodied physical vocabulary. The ‘comfort’ the tourist seeks and the care she experiences from strangers is complicated by the ephemera of online experience.

In another scene, the tourist makes a phone call from her apartment about a broken suitcase and the ‘weirdness’ of how energy can affect electrics. The film’s unsettling dialogue, littered with questions and half-formed answers, produces an effect of defamiliarisation. The characters’ speech ranges from firm declarative statements to off-beat humming and the repetition of haunting, dislocated lyrics from an early noughties R&B track. This song borrows a remixing method, ‘slowed + reverb’, from internet subculture where popular songs are altered and reposted on YouTube to wide communal appeal.

Installation view of Lisa Freeman, Approx 1 Second of a Sweet Kiss (2023–24)
Five-channel 4K film installation with stereo sound, 13min with 3min intermission
Photo: Ros Kavanagh
Courtesy the artist and Temple Bar Gallery + Studios

Elsewhere, sounds add a mythic quality: a blend of glowing, synthesised chords fall in and out of harmony while a pattern of ambient street noise is interspersed with quiet sonic articulations magnifying the miniature: the tiny clink of a spoon slipped from the café table into the tourist’s silver handbag. The accompanying exhibition text describes the work as proposing ‘intimacy as a method of resistance’. Mid-shot sequences of the women reveal small acts of mutual exchange, methods for navigating private and public space. Fingers are run through long strands of hair; bodies rest against one another inside the tourist’s holiday apartment. Eye-contact is razor sharp and coolly detached. Neither the recurrent shower singing or street scenes with anonymous extras are rooted in voyeurism.

By pulling the four women in the film together, with particular focus given to footage of the busy streets, Approx 1 Second of A Sweet Kiss draws attention not only to the intimacy of their dialogue but also to a broader sense of rhythm, imagined, as Franco ‘Bifo’ Berardi puts it, not just as ‘vocal emissions or […] the sound of acoustic matter’ but also rhythm as ‘the vibration of the world’. [3] In this context, touch becomes a connective tissue between the protagonist and the city. A long hug amid the backbeat of an ultra-quiet, ultra-manic drum set strengthens the disordered pattern of the work. Discomfort, interruptions, and dislocations are transitive marks of punctuation in a vibratory viewing experience.

Installation view of Lisa Freeman, Approx 1 Second of a Sweet Kiss (2023–24)
Five-channel 4K film installation with stereo sound, 13min with 3min intermission
Photo: Ros Kavanagh
Courtesy the artist and Temple Bar Gallery + Studios

Freeman’s film installation conjures the dissonant feelings attached to our everyday entanglement in both public and private spaces, where we oscillate between excitement and spontaneity in connection to other people and our surroundings, where we experience the inevitable alienation of our position within a ‘crowd’. Part of this exhibition’s strength is its ability to reach the edges of these feelings with quiet confidence. Approx 1 Second of a Sweet Kiss asks us to observe tenderly that which is often overlooked, whether it be the sound of footsteps on hard stone, or a clump of hair that is, as one woman tells us in the film, ‘just sitting there waiting to be seen’.

Lucie McLaughlin is a writer based in Belfast and Glasgow.

Notes [1] J. Hoberman, ‘“A Bright, Guilty World”: Daylight Ghosts and Sunshine Noir’, Artforum vol. 45, no. 6 (February 2007); https://www.artforum.com/features/a-bright-guilty-world-daylight-ghosts-and-sunshine-noir-174797/.
[2] Annie Ernaux, The Years, trans. Alison L. Strayer (London: Fitzcarraldo Editions, 2022), 46.
[3] Franco ‘Bifo’ Berardi, Breathing: Chaos and Poetry (South Pasadena: Semiotex(e), 2018), 17.

Lucie McLaughlin

13 June 2024

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