Like canned sardines, the naked bodies in melanie bonajo’s new video – in small letters – lie against each other, on their stomachs, alternately with heads or feet above in a straight line. They are as fat and shiny as the fish, poured into bottles of olive oil, as we have seen them put together in a previous scene. When an equally smooth body dives on them, it slides just above all their shaking buttocks.
The Chiesetta della Misericordia, a thirteenth-century church in the Cannaregio district of Venice, has been transformed into a boudoir-like environment with a soft patchwork of round and convex shapes on the floor and clothes draped in the air, like a large four-poster bed. When the sunlight also enters through the tall narrow windows, provided with a haze of colors of bonajo, the experience is complete: When the body says yes is clean delicious to the eye† bonajo takes you on a flow of soft colors, naked bodies and beautiful beats and then pulls you into a deeper undercurrent. And there you suddenly stand with a lump in your throat, listening to the stories that cling to all those bodies.
When the body says yes is the Dutch contribution to the 59th edition of the Venice Biennale, the leading art event where the world shows what art has to offer, both in national country pavilions and in an overall exhibition. The latest issue sparked a discussion in the Netherlands about the importance of national representation, and this time the Mondriaan Foundation decided to transfer the Rietveld Pavilion to Estonia and move it to the Church of Mercy itself. The history of the church, where people were received and the monks eventually died of the plague, provides more atmosphere than the Rietveld pavilion can offer. In addition, the site links in content to Bonajo’s work, which does not have much to do with God, but in a sense is also about creation, about the body and mind in relation to each other and to others, other people, flora and fauna.
bonajo is an artist, filmmaker, somatic sex coach, sexological bodybuilder, cuddle workshop counselor, digital ecofeminist, hyperelf, activist, and undoubtedly more than that, a power that coincides with the desired non-binary form of indictment. Their work ignores the categories into which we have classified man and nature, by sex, age, origin, species. In front of When the body says yes they collaborated with a group of fifteen genderqueer individuals with different experiences with their bodies labeled as obese, female, male, or disabled. Bare or lightly dressed, the skin adorned with ornaments, they meet in the video in a forest and in the twilight in a tent for therapeutic sessions around intimacy. They struggle with soft mattresses, caressed by touch with blindfolds in front, while in voice-over their personal stories of a little trauma and newfound strength are heard. because When the body says yes is at least as often about situations where the body would rather have said no, or said yes without being heard.
The surrender of the bodies requires a surrender of the mind
Participants underwent a transformation as individuals, now being strengthened and celebrated as a group. The tent alternates between a hot nest that twists more and more violently and a scene where a heated orgy calms down again. ONE safe space where the body is tested with complete consensus, where moans come from comfort and pleasure. I’m thinking of a poem by Marlene Dumas on a watercolor in her exhibition at Palazzo Grassi further up town. About heaven (2001): ‘If death / is a womb / then heaven / is a body without fear / that invites one / to come in from / which side / one desires / and just for a while / Time does not matter.’
This surrender of the bodies requires of the beholder a surrender of the mind which is not yet simple. But bonajo is here as an artist and in the most beautiful scenes, the form takes over the story.
For example, when the group kneels around a woman, or a person looking like a woman, and they bring their hands to her body in one fluid motion and touch it with their 140 fingers at the same time, i.e. seen from above, one eye close , or a flower or, why not, a vulva. The shiny and twisted bodies also open up a battalion of art-historical associations, completely out of place in this land of marble and ceiling paintings.
The comment from one of the participants that the world would be a better place if people touched each other more often is a thought to cherish, even when walking outside through the narrow alleys to the next exhibition.