From Mouth to Hand

Curated by Seth Watter

Poster by Xander Marro

“From Mouth to Hand” poster by Xander Marro

What is the mouth? It is that which ingests, drawing external objects into the body’s interior. And because it initiates this process of metabolism, turning matter into nourishment and thence into waste, the mouth looms large in our unconscious life as primordial dungeon or, worse yet, as gateway to Gehenna.

What is the hand? It is what grasps and releases, manipulating objects to suit its own ends. It is the preeminently human attribute, the thing one employs in the handling of tools and in the skilled manufacture of such tools as one handles. It acts as intermediary between world and mouth, carrying foodstuffs from the one to the other; and indeed there would be no “objects” at all were we unable to stave off that predatory process which must by necessity end in our mouths.

Yet the distinction so prized by philosophers, which renders the mouth archaic and bestial while lauding the hand as our spur to civilization, seems everywhere undercut by the attributes they share. Mouth and hand are the vehicles of language; they have equal capacity for tenderness and violence; they are predisposed to gesture, hence they are expressive. It is precisely this continuum running from a mouth to a hand that the works in this program collectively explore; for each among them has taken as its subject, with peculiar intensity, one or both of these anatomical marvels.

“Out of the same mouth proceedeth blessing and cursing.”—James 3:10

“The infant in these early months literally moves in such fashion as to carry anything that he can retain in his hand to his mouth, where it is tinkered with, sucked, and manipulated generally…. The mouth feels the thumb, and the thumb feels the mouth; that is self-sentience.”—Harry Stack Sullivan, The Interpersonal Theory of Psychiatry

“Among men the hand which never lets go has become the very emblem of power. ‘He was delivered into his hands,’ ‘He was in their hands,’ ‘It is in God’s hands.’ Similar expressions are common in all languages.”—Elias Canetti, Crowds and Power

“Why was it the movement of his arm stirred her as nothing else in the world could?”—D. H. Lawrence, Sons and Lovers

TRT: approx. 78 mins.

Unknown, Motormouth Robot KTR-2, 2009, 3 mins, color, sound, digital video (from YouTube)
Theresa Hak Kyung Cha, Mouth to Mouth, 1975, 8 mins, b&w, sound, digital video
C. Spencer Yeh, Eclipse, 2009, 8 mins, color, sound, digital video
Sarah Pucill, Milk and Glass, 1993, 10 mins, color, sound, 16mm
Peter Kubelka, Pause!, 1977, 12 mins, color, sound, 16mm
Martin Arnold, Alone. Life Wastes Andy Hardy, 1998, 14 mins, b&w, sound, 16mm
Amy Halpern, Filament (The Hands), 1974, 6 mins, b&w, silent,16mm
Martine Syms, Notes on Gesture, 2015, 10 mins, color, sound, digital video
Sara Magenheimer, The Rhythm of Plain White, 2014, 7 mins, color, sound, digital video