The Senses: Intimacy (sense of touch)

A split-screen DVD (English and German versions: 34 minutes) edited by Mirco Sanftleben, pixel2motion was produced in 2009 – orig­inal mate­rial lo band Umatic from Hi8 source 1991.

Trailer 4 minutes.

Concept, perfor­mance: Tanya Ury

Inti­macy, the split screen video and touch screen pieces combine mate­rial filmed in 1991 with written text cita­tions taken from Intimité” (Inti­macy) 1939 from Le Mur” (The Wall) by Jean-Paul Sartre, Modern Voices, Hesperus Press ((UK) ISBN: 1 – 84391-400‑x and Hanif Kureishi’s novel of the same title Inti­macy” 1998, Faber and Faber ISBN 0571194370. The Inti­macy works are a homage to Sartre and Kureishi’s anal­o­gous works.

The visual data was filmed between Xmas and New Year 1991, in Reading, where I was living at the time. A male lover and myself engage in sexual activity filmed by camera on a tripod, the action taking place against an arbi­trary heard back­ground of the BBC1 tele­vi­sion play The Lost Boys”, about J.M. Barrie, the author of Peter Pan” and TV adver­tise­ments for the film Truly Madly Deeply” (directed by Anthony Minghella in 1990) and other programmes. This recorded bedroom mate­rial, filmed a couple of years after my own marital break­down, was not orig­i­nally intended for use within a public art context but I feel it repre­sents well the senti­ments person­i­fied in the Sartre and Kureishi texts — the utopian idea of marriage fails and is replaced by multi­far­ious sexual prac­tice in fleeting encounters.

The Senses – a collec­tion of works:

The Senses: Play in Camera (sense of sight)
The Senses: Play it by Ear & An Ear for You (sense of sound)
The Senses: Ô d’Oriane (sense of smell)
The Senses: Zucchini (sense of taste)
The Senses: Inti­macy (sense of touch)


1989, I spent several months living with my grand­fa­ther Alfred Unger in Cologne of the Rhineland in Germany and discov­ered the French philoso­pher Jean Paul Sartre’s fiction in his library. Having read the Trilogy The Roads to Freedom” I continued with Sartre’s only collec­tion of short stories, enti­tled The Wall”, written before his confine­ment as a German pris­oner of war for 9 months from 1940 – 44 — he had been drafted into the French army 1939. One of these short stories was enti­tled Intimité” (Inti­macy).

’Then we started talking; I wiped his lips with a towel and told him I was fed up, I didn’t love him any more, and I was leaving. He started to cry and said he’d kill himself. But it won’t wash any more: you remember, Rirette, last year, during that busi­ness over the Rhineland1, he sang the same old tune every day; there’s going to be a war, Lulu, I’ll have to go, and I’ll get killed, and you’ll miss me, you’ll be sorry for all the pain you’ve caused me. Don’t worry,’ I kept telling him, you’re impo­tent, it’s grounds for exemp­tion from mili­tary service.’”2

’Inti­macy’ continues to explore the ever-fasci­nating terrain of psychopathia sexu­alis: husbands who can’t (or, as Sartre would presum­ably say, won’t) do it, and lovers who can, but leave a mess on the sheets. The sickly sweet sensa­tions of a bare leg encoun­tering a snail-like trail of semen have rarely been described more bril­liantly – Sartre, yet again, masterful in his oozy evoca­tions of the slimier aspects of life. Inti­macy’, the story’s title, is a nega­tive word for Sartre: it implies nasty secrets hidden away, festering in bour­geois bedrooms or in the ark recesses of the psyche.”3

Just over 10 years later I ascer­tained that Hanif Kureishi (son of a non-prac­ticing Muslim father from Karachi and an English mother4) had written a novella with the same title as Sartre’s short story. The features shared by Sartre and Kureishi’s Intimacy”’s are marital break­down and the flight into sexual compul­sion. I have however, discov­ered nothing to suggest that Kureishi wrote his Inti­macy” as a tribute to Sartre’s orig­inal text.

This, then, could be our last evening as an inno­cent, complete, ideal family; my last night with a woman I have known for ten years, a woman I know almost every­thing about, and want no more of. Soon we will be like strangers. No, we can never be that. Hurting someone is an act of reluc­tant inti­macy. We will be dangerous acquain­tances with a history.”5

I was inspired to make a piece on inti­macy and the sense of touch incor­po­rating the writ­ings of Sartre and Kureishi before being aware that these texts had been inter­preted in film: 1994, Dominik Moll set Sartre’s Intimité” to film in France; Kureishi’s Inti­macy” was filmed in London 2001 by Patrice Chereau (of the two films I have since only seen the latter).

Kureishi’s (orig­inal) story, Inti­macy, was contro­ver­sial because of its fiction­al­izing of his real-life marital break­down. The text was concerned, more inter­est­ingly and produc­tively (than the film — TU), with the mixture of courage and cowardice needed to walk out on a marriage. There were unfor­get­table passages in it, such as the quan­daries of middle-aged mastur­ba­tion: doing it without waking his sleeping wife, doing it in the bath­room while trying to ignore the sharp pain in his side from carrying the kids.”6

Discussing his collab­o­ra­tion with French director Patrice Chéreau on the film Inti­macy, Kureishi comments: If our age seems unide­o­log­ical” compared to the period between the mid-sixties and mideighties; if Britain seems pleas­antly hedo­nistic and polit­i­cally torpid, it might be because poli­tics has moved inside, into the body. The poli­tics of personal rela­tion­ships, of private need, gender, marriage, sexu­ality, the place of chil­dren, have replaced that of society, which seems uncon­trol­lable. (“The Two of Us”)”7

Both Intimacy”’s were written during different epochs, the pre war avant-garde, modernist; and the pre-millen­nium, post-modern era. The subject matter is the same but the approach is in each narra­tive typical of its time; these are written by men from the male perspec­tive but a female voice is included though its meaning and impli­ca­tion has changed with time. Sartre chose to medi­tate on the issues of sexu­ality with Inti­macy” in 1939 from an absur­dist perspective.

The stories in Le Mur (The Wall) empha­size the arbi­trary aspects of the situ­a­tions people find them­selves in and the absur­dity of their attempts to deal ratio­nally with them. A whole school of absurd liter­a­ture subse­quently devel­oped.”8

If Kureishi states that our age seems unide­o­log­ical”, for Sartre the World War 2 years were spent together with his partner, the philoso­pher Simone de Beau­voir, supporting a group organ­ising resis­tance activ­i­ties. The Wall” was written 10 years before de Beau­voir was to publish the quin­tes­sen­tial femi­nist trea­tise The Second Sex” on women and female sexu­ality in a man’s world. At this time the contra­cep­tive pill was first appearing on the market.

Although the 60’s brought with them a liber­al­i­sa­tion of sexual atti­tudes, in the West at least, a back­lash has been underway — the demands and conse­quences of desire are still disre­garded by the church (the Roman Catholic Church in partic­ular, urges youth to remain absti­nent before marriage and abor­tion is outlawed). So it is partic­u­larly potent that Kureishi chooses to stage extra­mar­ital sex as the main subject of his book; after all, the fears surrounding expressed sexu­ality since the compar­a­tively recent emer­gence of AIDs at the begin­ning of the 80’s, rage just below the surface of any man or woman’s skin, what­ever age, colour, creed or gender grouping they may belong to.

In all of Kureishi’s writ­ings he frequently pays homage to classic liter­a­ture; in Inti­macy” Jay the key figure affirms:

How utterly the past suffuses us. We live in all our days at once. The writers Dad preferred are still my favourites, mostly nine­teenth-century Euro­peans, the Russians in partic­ular. The char­ac­ters, Goriot, Vronsky, Madame Ranevskaya, Nana, Julien Sorel, feel part of me.”9


Play in Camera, Ô d’Oriane and Red Hot Pokers are all pieces of mine where lines from two different pieces written by diverse writers have been appro­pri­ated and put together to create a third text with a different but similar logic:

Play in Camera (a video instal­la­tion) combines lines from Sartre’s In Camera” (No Exit) and Samuel Beckett’s Play”.

Ô d’Oriane (a photo and text series) combines lines from Primo Levi’s The Mnemogogues” 1990 and Italo Calvino’s The Name, The Nose” 1972.

Red Hot Pokers (a video docu­mented perfor­mance) consists of freely read texts from Ludwig Wittgenstein’s Remarks on Colour” 1950 and Adolf Hitler’s Mein Kampf” 1924.

With most of these pieces I have employed English trans­la­tions of the literary works. Red Hot Pokers has alter­na­tively been performed in German or English.

Tanya Ury


The restric­tive mores and taboos surrounding sexu­ality in many parts of our world make inti­macy a subject that, beyond its natural appeal, is still impor­tant to engage with:

South Africa may be the only country in the world to have enshrined lesbian and gay equality in its Consti­tu­tion, but a rash of brutal murders of lesbians last month has under­scored how the country is under­going an epidemic of hate crimes against LGBT people, trig­gering protests from Cape Town to New York City — including from an openly gay South African Supreme Court of Appeal Justice… Speaking this Tuesday at a meeting called by the student LGBT group Rainbow at the Univer­sity of Cape Town to protest wide­spread anti-gay violence, openly gay and openly HIV-posi­tive Supreme Court of Appeal Justice Edwin Cameron said that there is rampant inequality and prej­u­dice against gays and lesbians’ in South Africa, and added, We need to reach a point where everyone is protected in their lifestyles.’” Outrage at South African Lesbian Murders by: DOUG IRELAND




Pegah Emam­bakhsh is an Iranian woman who sought asylum in the UK in 2005. Her claim failed. She was arrested in Sheffield and is being held in Yarl’s Wood Immi­gra­tion Removal Centre pending depor­ta­tion on Tuesday 28 August 2007 at 21.35 on British Airways flight BA6633 to Iran. If returned to Iran, Pegah faces impris­on­ment and possibly stoning to death. Her crime in Iran is her sexual orien­ta­tion — she was in a rela­tion­ship with another woman. Pegah escaped from Iran, claiming asylum, after her partner was arrested, tortured and subse­quently sentenced to death by stoning. Her father was also arrested and inter­ro­gated about her where­abouts. He was even­tu­ally released but not before he had been tortured himself. Pegah has a more than well founded fear of perse­cu­tion if she is returned to Iran. She belongs to a group of people — gays and lesbians — who, it is well known, are severely perse­cuted in Iran. According to Iranian human rights campaigners, many lesbians and gay men have been executed since the Ayatol­lahs came to power in 1979. According to gay rights group Outrage The Islamic Republic of Iran is qual­i­ta­tively more homo­phobic than almost any other state on earth. Its govern­ment-promoted and reli­gious-sanc­tioned torture and execu­tion of lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans­gender people marks out Iran as a state acting in defi­ance of all agreed inter­na­tional human rights conven­tions.’ A change of pres­i­dent at about the time of Pegah’s first refusal on Appeal in Autumn 2005 has since led to a more conser­v­a­tive and hard line régime in Iran. In 2006 a German court ruled that an Iranian lesbian could not be deported as she risked death because of her sexu­ality. The UK Border and Immi­gra­tion Agency (BIA) have chosen not to believe that she is in danger if returned to Iran, even though the UK govern­ment are well aware of the terrible situ­a­tion that gay people face there.” www​.indy​media​.org


A major compo­nent of Poland’s homo­phobic witches’ brew is misogyny. Abor­tion is banned, and there are a number of cultural and economic constraints on women and queers alike. Female artists who deal with sexu­ality have been hard hit by censor­ship. Some, like Dorota Niez­nalska, have also been phys­i­cally assaulted. Members of the League of Polish Fami­lies attacked Niez­nalska verbally and phys­i­cally at the Gdansk gallery where her Passion’ instal­la­tion was being exhib­ited last year. The work, an explo­ration of masculinity and suffering, shows a cross on which a photo­graph of a frag­ment of a naked male body, including the geni­talia, has been placed. The League also sued the artist. Last July, a court found her guilty of offending reli­gious feel­ings” and sentenced her to half a year of restric­tion of freedom” (she was specif­i­cally banned from leaving the country), and ordered her to do commu­nity work and to pay all trial expenses. When the judge read the sentence, members of the League of Polish Fami­lies packing the court­room applauded ecsta­t­i­cally. The artist has been trying since to get the sentence over­turned on freedom of speech grounds. Dorota Nieznalska’s convic­tion prompted more than 700 artists and intel­lec­tuals from Poland and abroad to sign a letter of protest that said: The prin­ciple of freedom of expres­sion has been totally violated. The artist is the victim of an ideo­log­ical vision of a reli­gious state, which the League of Polish Fami­lies is attempting to impose on Polish society. Civic free­doms are not estab­lished in order that they may serve one ideology. We all have the right to live and func­tion in this country and to express our own views freely.’” WARSAW, JAN. 12, 2004. The Gully online maga­zine, 01.9.2007 Europe, Hope for Love in Poland? Gay move­ment grows in Poland despite far-right surge. By Tomek Kitlinski and Pawel Leszkowicz


…Much of the anti-gay senti­ment that is sweeping Russia has been whipped up by reli­gious leaders. Threat­ening violence against Moscow Gay Pride, the chief mufti of Russia’s Central Spir­i­tual Gover­nance for Muslims, Talgat Tajuddin, said: Muslim protests can be even worse than these noto­rious rallies abroad over the scan­dalous cartoons.’ The parade should not be allowed, and if they still come out into the streets, then they should be bashed. Sexual minori­ties have no rights, because they have crossed the line. Alter­na­tive sexu­ality is a crime against God,’ he said, calling on members of the Russian Orthodox Church to join Muslims in mounting a violent response to Moscow Gay Pride. Russian Orthodox leaders responded by lobbying Mayor Luzhkov to ban the parade. A spokesperson declared that homo­sex­u­ality is a sin which destroys human beings and condemns them to a spir­i­tual death’. Not to be left out, Russia’s chief rabbi, Berl Lazar, said that if a Gay Pride parade was allowed to go ahead it would be a blow for morality’. He stopped short of calling for violence, but warned that the Jewish commu­nity would not stand by silently. Sexual perver­sions’, he said, did not have a right to exist. Lazar declared that Gay Pride marches were a provo­ca­tion’ similar to the cartoon depic­tions of Mohammed…” Peter Tatchell 24.5.07 Guardian comment is free -



Rabbi Walter Roth­schild (from York­shire) was sacked after he took out a condom packet and offered this prop in the syna­gogue as an example of what Jews should not be thinking about during the special days of Rosh Hashanah. They didn’t like my sense of humour’ he said, a little wounded; but he’s vowed to fight on and continue with his impos­sible job’”. Jewish Berlin rises again — with Russian help Wednesday, 15 November, 2000, 20:20 GMT


1 The refer­ence (p. 97.) to the Rhineland suggests a date for this story, as the demil­i­tarised area of the Rhineland was occu­pied by the Nazis in March 1936.”. Andrew Brown’S Notes in 2005 publi­ca­tion of The Wall”, Modern Voices, Hesperus Press ((UK) ISBN: 1 – 84391-400‑x

2 P. p. 97 Ibid 1

3 Andrew Brown, Intro­duc­tion to 2005 publi­ca­tion of The Wall”, p. xvi ibid 1

4 The Films of Hanif Kureishi, Mo Shah, December 19, 2004 www​.egothemag​.com

5 P.3 – 4 Inti­macy, Hanif Kureishi 1998, Faber and Faber ISBN 0 571 19437 0

6 Peter Brad­shaw, Cinema, Arts Guardian Weekly August 2. – 8.2000

7 Poli­tics of Inti­macy in Hanif Kureishi’s Films and Fiction, The Liter­a­ture Film Quar­terly, 2004 by Cone, Annabelle


8 en​.wikipedia​.org/​wiki/…

9 P. 41 ibid 3



2012 (11.6) Tanya Ury is the featured artist with new works in the June edition online of Imag­i­na­tions: Journal of Cross-Cultural Image Studies, Univer­sity of Alberta, Canada, with Videos: Inti­macy, cement & dark room; a series of 17 concrete poems, the photo­graph Alibi­jude, Selec­tion from the Who’s Boss series, and 8 photos from Soul Brothers & Sisters, also 3 photos of Occupy in Stras­bourg, from the Fading into the Fore­ground series; further­more 5 toned poems (sounds, music and sound mix Kasander Nilist) and a peer review inter­view (text and Skype video) with Claude Desmarais, (CA)


Publika­tionen & Presse

Publi­ca­tions & Press

Artist’s Writ­ings & Publications

2009 (1.11) The Senses on the Arkadas Theatre, Bühne der Kulturen (Stages of Diverse Cultures) website Cologne (D)


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