People do Water, a hydrophilic artistic project
This is a short study about the aesthetic/sensual/sexual relation between the sea and the human body. It is a displacement of notions, genders, practices, devices. It takes place in a landscape made of floating margins, foam, maritime spaces, littorals, waves, clouds, biological beings made of bones and flesh or made just of water.
All this has something to do with queering: horizons become diagonals (from the German quer) that cross and join apparently disjoint territories.
Hydrophilia is both the property of an element of absorbing and attracting water, and a form of sexual excitement in humans.
For example the hydrofilic cotton wool is a kind of fibre from which resinous and waxy matters have been chemically removed, making it highly absorbent and penetrable; in contact with water it embodies it in itself.
In humans Hydrophilia is a form of sensual attraction or sexual excitement involving the immersion of the body in water, or of people or objects in water, or in front of images about people or objects in water.
People do Water (2013 2019) begins as the working process of many photographers begins: the research of a refrain, a tic, a recurrent imaginary, a rhythm between a negatives strip and another.
I have always taken pictures of people in the sea but I had not yet realized that these could be a body of images. At the first shot I was a child, and sea was just right there in front of me. An elementary expressions, or photographs that you do not even remember having taken. Just few years ago, looking for refrains in my personal film archive, this long sequence of hundreds of images of people immersed in the water has emerged.
I therefore imaged they were doing water, from the first to the last: I evidently superimposed to an elementary expression a superstructure. Since then I have never stopped to look at people in the water as people doing water.
I chose People do Water as title, it was the most honest, if honesty is a value in art practices.
Every photographer is made to take an image, and not to take another. Often photographers are genre photographers, they are attracted to something to which they attribute a surplus of value, and that is worth repeating and repeating again in the shots. A mechanism of desire and pleasure capable of acting in the form of displacement, selection, exclusion, inclusion, echo, deformation, epiphany.
The subtle desire of the eye is realized in the multiplication of the difference of something that comes back again and again. Every ocular orifice is sensitive in its own way.
When I think about the differentiation of photography I tend to think not as a list of genres, but a list of paraphilias.
Paraphilia is the displacement of a sensual pulsion, next to, above of, beside of a sensual pulsion that is considered conventional.
It seems that the word Aquaphilia (synonym of Hydrophilia) was used for the first time in the ‘90s by Phil Bolton, author of the online magazine “Aquaphiles Journal”, a collection of under water erotic scenes.
One of the most ancient cases of Hydrophilia attestation, with the exception of the numerous divine and mythological unions with water that precede it, is the one narrated by Suetonious in The Lives of the Caesars. This historiographical text, sometimes criticized of groundlessness, was written in the II century AD.
In the book III-44 we can read about the life of the roman emperor Tiberius Caesar (1) , born in 42 BC: “Maiore adhuc ac turpiore infamia flagravit, vix ut referri audirive, nedum credi fas sit, quasi pueros primae teneritudinis, quos pisciculos vocabat, institueret, ut natanti sibi inter femina versarentur ac luderent lingua morsuque sensim adpetentes…“
“He indulged in greater and more shameful depravities, things scarcely to be told or heard, let alone credited, such as the little boys he called his ‘minnows’ whom he trained to swim between his thighs to nibble and lick him while he was swimming…”
In the Manusmrti, or Laws of Manu, a set of dharmic legal codices of the ancient Hindu society (II a.C.-II d.C.), part is dedicated to the regulation of sexual relations and underwater sexual intercourses are punished with fast (11.174): “A man who has committed a bestial crime, or an unnatural crime with a female, or has had intercourse in water, or with a menstruating woman shall perform a Samtapana Krikkhra (fast).”(2)
Penetrating with a body made of 65% water, the water itself, is an echo of a physical union that, after all, has always happened inside bodies, but both body and sea are just parts of our way of thinking and creating notions and are both interconnected elements of an articulated and extended relation.
From “The Nights of Straparola” by Giovanni Francesco Straparola, 1553.
Night XIII, The First Fable
“Maestro Gasparino, a physician, by the virtue of his art works a cure on certain madmen”
“…Having travelled a great way from his home, he came one day to the outskirts of a forest, near which he perceived a mighty river. On this spot he set to work to build a great house of marble, fitted with bronze doors, and round about it he caused the river to flow on all sides, cutting certain trenches and watercourses in such wise that he could be make the water rise and fall according as it best siuted his purpose. Thus he dug some of the trenches in such manner that the water could be made to rise up to a man’s eyes, in others to his throat, in others to his breast, in others to his navel, in others to his thigh, and in others to his knees. To the side of each of these trenches he caused to be attached an iron chain, and over the entrance door of this great house he set up tablet with the following inscription written thereon, “The place where madmen are cured”.
In the course of time the fame of Gasparino’s house spread abroad, and it became known to all men: so that from various quarters madmen were brought thither to be cured in such vast numbers that it might have been said to rain madmen. When they were brought in the master of the place caused them to be put in the trenches he had made, according to the degree of the madness which afflicted them. Some of them he treated with blows, others with vigils and fasts, others needed only to breathe the fine pure air round about, and thus, little by little, he would bring them back to their right minds.”
Maiuma, Aquatic Erotic Display in Ancient Eastern Empire
from “Public Spectacles in Roman and Late Antique Palestine”, by Zeev Weiss, 2014.
(words in UPPERCASE are not in the original text but put in evidence by Benedetta Panisson to let emerge the moral device that often characterizes some academic studies when in relation with erotic manifestations in the past)
“Aquatic displays were popular in a number of cities of the Eastern empire. Such shows featuring dance or mime in conjunction with a body of water were exhibited, for example, in the Graeco-Syrian Maiuma water festival. John Chrysostom’s homily recounting a seemingly SHAMEFUL spectacle of naked mimes swimming in the theater apparently alludes to the Maiuma. The Syriac chronicler Joshua the Slylite describes a festival with nocturnal activities held in the middle of May in Edessa in the time of Anastasius, referring probably the the Maiuma celebrations that took place in the city in 495/496 and 497/498 ce. The rejoicing crowds, clad in linen and wearing turbans, gathered in the evening in the theater, where lamps were lit and incense was burned through the night…
… The Maiuma festival finds expression in several Jewish literary sources, demonstrating, for instance, that the festival took place near a water source or indicating the PERVERSE nature of the activities held during religious celebrations. The original purpose of the Maiuma is UNKNOWN, but the scanty evidence may suggest that the LASCIVIOUS aquatic displays during the festival gained some popularity in the late antiquity in a number of cities of ancient Palestine.”