There can be no touching here

There can be no touching here is part of an ongoing project by ila that explores how sexual assault is represented, disseminated, and consumed across various media. A metal plaque announces, “THERE CAN BE NO TOUCHING HERE.” The phrase is a familiar echo of the “no touching” rule common in art institutions, but it serves to draw attention to the format, tone, and feel of language that sets up expectations for acceptable boundaries and distancing. The uppercase letters, etched into the metal sheet, suggests something of the stern officiality of the institutional voice behind the injunction to not touch. Yet the choice of glossy metal betrays the text, with stray fingerprints, scuffs, and marks visible all over the surface of the plaque. The work underscores the importance of aesthetics and materiality at the heart of discussions around boundaries. The look and feel of language itself impacts how we come to perceive the weight of certain boundaries, and in turn, how we deal with our desires for violability, rule enforcement, or care.As a counterpoint to the plaque, the accompanying fabric banners are products of ila’s research into the communicative norms around recent cases of assault. They carry printed excerpts of texts found in the news and on social media (color coded in grey), as well as critical annotations added by the artist (color coded in red). The first banner examines and annotates a news article to consider how assault is framed by specific language and omissions. The second banner demonstrates how comments on social media can further invalidate experiences of assault while also citing meaningful examples that reorient the conversations. The final banner highlights the importance of moving towards care and repair through collective action and communal support for survivors. ila has also hand-stitched red thread to underline or frame certain text passages, highlighting their significance, but also, in the process, warping the fabric around the text, suggesting the material implications and deformative effects of language.There can be no touching here was jointly presented as part of two exhibitions in Proposal for Novel Ways of Being, that is, An Exercise in Meaning in a Glitch Season and Time Passes at the National Gallery Singapore. The physical artefacts were shown in tandem with an online participatory mind mapping exercise, structured around three lines of inquiry: (1) What are alternative justice systems? (2) What is binary thinking? (3) What is harm? Visitors were able to submit statements, questions, and resources through via a QR code link on the wall label, after which ila arranged the responses onto a visual mind map using the software Coggle. The resulting mind maps were shown as a video projection in the exhibition space. This socially engaged aspect of the project is a continuation of together, we go over what is not over, which ila organized at The Substation’s Concerned Citizens Programme on Social Mobility in 2019 as a series of sessions that identified gaps within art and academic communities to share stories, resources, and measures to counter the perpetuation of assault. Artist Bio:Across performance, photography, and various media, ila (b. 1985, Singapore) weaves her own body and emotions into the peripheries of lived experience and unspoken narratives. In negotiations with different realms of existence and the aftermaths of trauma, she reconfigures and merges speculative fiction with factual histories conceiving them as sites for empathy and connectivity. Her current work revolves around the urgencies of repair, care, and mutual support. Amid frustrations resulting from the shifting urban landscape and rising social inequalities, the artist is interested in navigating the collective emotional psyche through the notion of “wounded city” as described by cultural geographer Karen E. Till. By way of personal and collective exercises, she intends to warp existing spatial relations, map new pathways onto the urban fabric, and engage in the process of memory-work to open up entry points into places of the present through both subjective experiences and stories of the past. These exercises are intended as individual and collective forms of resistance to physical displacement, affective mutilations, and social disempowerment, as well as symbolical remedies to mend ecosystems permeated by alienation and loss. ila’s performances/works have recently been included in group shows such as Proposals for Novel Ways of Being, National Gallery Singapore (2020) and 2219: Futures Imagined, ArtScience Museum (2020); State of Motion: A Fear of Monsters, Asian Film Archive (2019); Arus Balik, NTU Centre for Contemporary Art (2019). She has also exhibited at National Design Centre (2019); Coda Culture, Singapore (2018); OH! Open House (2019); Objectifs – Centre for Photography & Film (2016); Ketemu Project Space, Bali (2016); and Unifiedfield, Granada (2015); among others.