Hands tied

Maria Lassnig. Palmistry. 1973.

Jointly programmed by Cosmic Reductions & Another Screen, this programme brings together two very different films about hands: Maria Lassnig’s Palmistry (1973) and Ayesha Hameed’s A Rough History (of the Destruction of Fingerprints) (2016). These works are contextualised and their scope extended further by a transcribed roundtable discussion between Rachel Aumiller, Sam Dolbear, Nadine El-Enany, Amelia Groom, Clio Nicastro, Anja Sunhyun Michaelsen, and M. Ty, who discuss fate, work, pleasure, touch, and surveillance. This roundtable has been translated into Italian, Portuguese, Spanish, Korean and Greek. April 2-12, 2021.


“If you say so: reflections on Maria Lassnig’s Palmistry

by Rachel Aumiller

Lassnig explores touching as a site of split desires: the desire for vulnerability and even the desire to be contaminated on one side, and the desire for self-preservation and self-expansion on the other. With every touch, we press ourselves into another or pull them into ourselves while simultaneously pushing them away. Lassnig shows how this double impulse of touching is both an obstacle and a condition for intimacy. One scene of touching takes place between the lovers. The male figure asks if it is her first time: 

[he hops into her pool] So is it? So it isn’t? [hops out]

[hops in] So it is? So it isn’t? [hops out]

[hops in] So it is? So it isn’t [hops out] 

He plays a game of fort-da, oscillating to and fro, but he is only playing with himself. He mistakes the desire for knowledge and possession as love. “You must tell me,” he says just as the palm reader later says, “You must have been…You must be…”

“You must have been crazy,” the palm reader says. “You’re making me crazy,” the male lover says. “If you say so…,” she sighs. 

She simultaneously holds herself open to be fully experienced by him, while resisting his terms. Why, why, why, she repeats three times, as if to ask, why is your “I love you” a demand to know and possess? 

To come into touch is necessarily to be altered. Lassnig shows how holding oneself open for intimacy is a danger that risks total annihilation. Yet it is a risk she chooses to take, while insisting on self-preservation and expansion.

The hand blots out the red rising sun. The male lover covers her lust and hunger with a shadow blanket. Her used skin shrivels up, but she uncurls herself and once again offers her hand.

The palm reader takes the woman by the hand. Even as he holds her hand, she confesses, “I am rather lonely.” Touching requires us to collapse a space between two, while holding open a space for our own convictions and uncertain desires. In order for touching to yield intimacy, all parties connected by touch must give themselves over to the risks of this paradox. The palm reader, like the male lover, does not allow himself to be altered by the uncertainties of the other’s touch. 

The repetition of the opening and closing hand reflects the paradox of touching. Although the protagonist does not find a partner in intimacy, she does not forsake her own practice of leaning in while pulling away, of vulnerability and resistance:

[an open hand] I invite you to soak in my joy and my strength. 

[a closed hand] You will not drink me dry.  

[an open hand] My legs are spread. 

[a closed hand] My arms are crossed.

[an open hand] Would you like to peer into my past, into my darkness, into my light?

[a closed hand] You demand to know me as no other knows, but you do not listen.

[an open hand] I want to dress myself in feathers, I want sex, I want to play now. 

[a closed hand] Why do you try to dry up my lust that causes you to swell? 

[an open hand] I eat when I’m hungry, I drink when I’m dry.

[an open hand] I unfold myself. I trust. 

[an open hand] I will not shrink.

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