Hyperconnected Modalities of Touch: Ofri Cnaani’s ‘Accidental Triggers’ by Georgia Perkins

Figure 1: Ofri Cnaani, Accidental Triggers, 2021

Ofri Cnaani’s exhibition ‘Accidental Triggers’ at Triskel Arts Centre (2022), marks a continuation of her previous Cork-based projects, such as the exhibition ‘Your Statistical Body’ (2021) and the workshop series ‘Dizzying Feeling of Touch’ (2020) at Sirius Arts Centre. In each iteration, she ties embodied technologies with different modalities of touch and forms of technocratic control to identify how the extraction and surveillance of data informs habits, gestures, and connections in our everyday lives.

Cnaani’s practice intersects performance, moving image, the algorithmic turn and the space of the institution. She often draws from educational protocols such as research and teaching, including museums and universities, from a feminist perspective. Having previously worked in the museum sector, Cnaani often incorporates the docent position into her performances and installations to confront the ways in which knowledges and histories are both produced and communicated. Her earlier project Frequently Asked Questions (2015) was a participatory piece, which consisted of one-to-one conversations between a visitor and tour guide walking around a museum. The interactions aimed to disrupt the formalities between each pair, the objective accounts of the history of the collection and institution, and instead introduce the individual’s personal experiences into the exchange.

Increasingly in her work, Cnaani reconfigures the position of the guide to a form of practice that navigates spaces never visited and objects made absent, which are, in turn, sensorially mediated through other bodies, spaces and times. In her most recent projects, she turns to the im/possibility of making ‘absent’ or ‘remote’ guided tours. For example, in the video Leaking Lands: An Unguided Tour (2021), she traverses the National Museum of Brazil, which was burnt down after a fatal fire in September 2018; and in the performance Ground Control: When the Horizon Becomes a Frontier (2022), she acts as an earthly and external ‘eyewitness’ to the International Space Station. In each case, she not only pushes her relationship to a particular territory to the edges, but also complicates what it means to make contact with objects which are no longer there or that are located at extreme distances.

Consequently, Cnaani troubles epistemologies across disciplines, such as museum studies and extra-terrestrial sciences, as she plays with the overt emphasis on proficiency, expertise, and acting with a level of certainty in relaying information, when it comes to be based on impossible or fictional encounters. However, the proximal distance to the memory of a space experienced without direct contact, and the traces of objects found out of place, does not mean they are experienced without intimacy. Cnaani brings to attention how other forms of information are apprehended and activate different kinds of sensibilities. Remains, leakages, or what she calls ‘active residues’ of matter and objects, become palpable in the interstices of existence and non-existence, as they appear and disappear on our screens and offline as physical remnants.  

Figure 2: Ofri Cnaani, Accidental Triggers at ‘A Performance Affair’ art fair, Brussels. 2020. Photograph: Ofri Cnaani

Transgressing the boundaries between the digital and physical realm provides the grounds for the first iteration of Accidental Triggers. Cnaani’s physical performance was presented by MLF (Marie-Laure Fleisch), as part of the art fair ‘A Performance Affair,’ which was held in Brussels in 2019. This involved one-to-one sessions with audience members, which resonated with the format of Frequently Asked Questions (2015). In this performance, Cnaani guided participants as she mapped out predictions of their ‘algorithmic fate’ by using a live Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response test and a collection of materials such as products, words, and news clippings. By combining ancient occult practices with algorithmic methods of predicting the future, the work becomes embedded within the constellation of artists, curators and writers operating within the critical field in art and media theory who bring together magic, embodied practices and technology. Calculating the converging lines between different methods of prediction, which alludes to both ancient practices and contemporary algorithmic bias, the work forms a critical response to what it means to anticipate the conditions of individual and collective futures through behavioural patterns and data collection.

Accidental Triggers not only points to technological and occult tools of speculation or approximation, but fuses these with the phenomenon of unanticipated events, happenings, or feelings, producing a rupture, shock, or discord with so-called ‘normal’ occurrences. This might take the form of a catalytic moment or a chance signal precipitating a chain of events, producing distress or preceding a gunshot. For Cnaani, the title Accidental Triggers fundamentally ties to the effect of A.S.M.R, whereby the combination of both audio recordings of ambient noise and a whispering voice with the visual elements of touching materials can have an unforeseen impetus on the body. This not only impedes the calculative quality of prediction but also highlights the unexpected extent to which A.S.M.R became a frenzied media phenomenon, which reached its peak in 2018.

Figure 3: Ofri Cnaani, ‘Accidental Triggers’, Triskel Arts Centre, installation view. Photograph: John Beasley

At Triskel Arts Centre, Cnaani presents two films, Accidental Triggers (2021) and The Knowing Drops Down from the Naming Brain (2022), as well as a collection of metadata texts. The exhibition presents a shift in the temporality of the project Accidental Triggers, from the liveness of the original performance to the looping of two films and recurring imagery of texts, which adorn the gallery’s walls. The mediums of the works not only warp the audience’s relationship to codifications of prediction and unexpectedness, but also describe how touch and contact can manifest across the screen.

The title film Accidental Triggers (2021) collates different textual materials and audio recordings, from user discussion boards to metadata about A.S.M.R and ‘slime making’ videos. Cnaani produces a fetishistic and euphoric experience for the audience in seeing, touching, and listening to a selection of ‘digital remains’ of museum artefacts. The work reconfigures modalities of touch by undermining the centrality of the object in A.S.M.R and institutions. ‘I feel so close to you / I can almost touch / You’. The intimate words appear on screen, as the artist carefully moves across the surface of the digital traces of museum objects.

Under the direction of Cnaani, the use of the hand cursor becomes an externalised, extended limb for viewers – zooming in and out, as the materials come in and out of focus across different scales. As the cursor circles around the differently textured materials, the digital rendering produces a glitchy and fragmented imagined interior, which is otherwise invisible. The individually and collectively fleshy, nebulous materials appear like sticky organic crustaceans held in the depths of the ocean, appearing as more-than-human forms of togetherness.

Figure 4: Ofri Cnaani, Accidental Triggers, 2021

Cnaani’s work not only addresses the politics of touch according to the ‘active residues’ of objects, but also sheds light on the state of ‘contactlessness’ as it is framed through the space of the museum and finance economies. In the context of the museum, touching/making contact with objects is limited to the privileged few (the curator and the wealthy) and the contactless status is filled by the masses. The audience’s relationship with museum artefacts is always categorically placed at a distance.  However, with the advent and surge in contactless technologies, including touch-free cards and other transactions, the condition or state of being without direct touch becomes an indication of wealth by no longer needing to handle paper money.

This fundamental shift in who can touch formed the premise of Cnaani’s collaborative project with artist Sarah Vowden on ‘contactlessness.’ This undermines the clear-cut and pragmatic approach of treating the physical-as-tangible/material and the digital-as-intangible/immaterial, by questioning how different experiences of touch arise according to factors such as economic status, geopolitical positioning of the individual, and technological accessibility in a period of hyper-communication. From what was previously a restricted tactile experience in handling historical objects in the museum setting, Cnaani ruptures the logic of the traditional archive (as storage, an index, or a tool for preservation in a controlled climate) by pointing to the potentialities of contact across the screen. 

Figure 5: Ofri Cnaani, The Knowing Drops Down from the Naming Brain, 2022

The second film in the exhibition, The Knowing Drops Down from the Naming Brain (2022),responds to the Western ideology of progress and reason that posits the brain as the core of all knowledge production. For this film, Cnaani collaborated with the artist and dance-maker luciana achugar, to attune to how embodied knowledges located across different parts of the body can alter the kinds of relationships to the digital traces of objects on the screen. For example, the work points to the types of visceral and liquid responses activated by looking at a classic marble bust, which can no longer be known through discursive associations and historical significance but experienced through other parts of the body. By shifting the domain of knowledge production beyond optic or linguistic limitations, the film allows other kinds of contact and awareness to come into play.

The work combines Cnaani’s research with achugar’s practice, which uses pleasure as a method to heal colonialist-embodied trauma. Cnaani invited achugar to channel her practice of returning to a pre-lingual state, specifically through her voice alone. This produced the challenge in forming an oral embodied response that is without movement. The spoken word is punctuated by segments of body mapping and ‘guided imagination,’ which is interspersed with the sound of humming and breathing.

In the exhibition ‘Accidental Triggers’ at Triskel Arts Centre, Cnaani brings together a collection of works where she exposes how modalities of touch are increasingly being questioned and reconfigured in the ‘contactless’ yet ‘hyperconnected’ condition, as it amalgamates within the institution and through A.S.M.R technologies in the period of late capitalism.

Georgia Perkins is curatorial fellow at SIRIUS, Cobh, County Cork, and a doctoral candidate and tutor in Visual Cultures at Goldsmiths, University of London. She is also a visiting lecturer at Winchester School of Art and a core member of the Liquidity Cohort (MARs) and the Counterfield Collective. At SIRIUS, she has worked on numerous exhibitions and events with artists and writers such as Daniela Ortiz, Chila Kumari Burman, Shen Xin, Marie Brett, Anton Vidokle, Gregory Sholette, Amanda Rice, and The White Pube.

Accidental Triggers’ by Ofri Cnaani was exhibited at the Triskel Arts Centre from September 1st to November 26th 2022.

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