Review: ‘Intimacy’ at the Australian Centre for Contemporary Art (ACCA), Melbourne

Exhibition dates: 7th October 2008 – 30th November 2008

The exhibition includes works by Louise Bourgeois, Nan Goldin, Steve McQueen, Sophie Calle, Mariele Neudecker, Jesper Just, Gabrielle de Vietri, Felix Gonzalez-Torres, Mutlu Çerkez, Amikam Toren, Margaret Salmon and Annika Ström



Sophie Calle. "Doleur exquise" 1984/1999


Sophie Calle (French, b. 1953)
Doleur exquise


Set up by Frank Gehry and Edwin Chan
Exhibition view at Rotonde1, Luxembourg, 2007


Sophie Calle (French, b. 1953) 'Doleur exquise' 1984/1999 (detail)


Sophie Calle (French, b. 1953)
Doleur exquise (detail)



An eclectic mix of mixed media, photography and video work is presented in this exhibition. The work examines concepts of intimacy – staged performances, stories of the city, of men, women, families and children; the artists “contemplate passion, love and longing, as well as feelings of disquiet, loss, and loneliness that embody intimate human relations.”

The show exudes a certain melancholia and is troubling in many aspects: loneliness, separation, desire for intimacy, desire for love all being expressed through the presented works. Some of the works are strong but others left me cold and uninterested. Few are joyous renditions of the closeness of intimate relations and most works ponder the dangers and disillusionment of failed intimacies that involve feelings of vulnerability (intimate acts often involve a degree of self-disclosure where intimates show something of themselves that may make them feel vulnerable), ambiguity (intimate acts are often an ambiguous and incomplete shared and often idiosyncratic view of the world) and secrecy (intimate acts are private: they are often constructed, by their participants, to be hidden from the view of others).1

The large work by English artist Steve McQueen features two naked black wrestlers shot in slow motion in grainy black and white video. The wrestlers are photographed from the waist down, images of moving legs, or from below, bodies clinging together, faces grimacing in a hyperreal performance of some hypnotic intimate dance – an acted out state of being.

Amikan Torren’s 2008 video work is by comparison is about the improbabilities of life’s daily encounters: in Downstairs over a video image of 3 steps outside a London railway station the narrator tells of a man, a stockbroker who after an accident sometimes needs help descending steps; in Blind the narrator comments on a person helping a blind man across the street; and in Carrots, over a video image of a London street the narrator tells a story about an adolescent and fresh carrots! The musings on the synchronicity and serendipity of everyday encounters are very effective.

Jesper Just’s two video works No Man Is An island II (2004) and The Lonely Villa (2004) were very effective and moving. In the first lonely men in a pub sing the Roy Orbison song Crying with pictures of naked ladies behind them – it is funny and sad at the same time. In the second men in the shadows sit or stand with telephones in front of them: two men sing to each other the song I Don’t Want To Set The World On Fire with close-ups of their lips singing into the telephone: songs of loss, longing and remembrance.

The two most interesting pieces are not video works, nor are they the overrated photographs of Nan Goldin featuring photographs of a family hugging and lying on a bed, but the work of two women: Sophie Calle and Louise Bourgeois.

In Doleur exquise (exquisite pain) Calle revisits fifteen years later the breakup of a relationship and the aftermath of that event: the distress and pain, the experiences of her friends in such circumstances and turns them into brilliant insightful art. A selection of the whole work is presented here that features colour photographs (multiples of a red telephone, abandoned car with it’s doors open, washbasins and empty bedrooms) above text woven onto linen – black on white, grey on grey. The texts are both painful and repetitive (Calle’s on the left) and others heartbreaking accounts of pain (on the right): “6 days ago, the man I love left me …”

(For an insightful analysis of this work see Can Pain Be Exquisite? Autofictional Stagings of Douleur exquise by Sophie Calle, Forced Entertainment and Frank Gehry and Edwin Chan by Anneleen Masschelein. “On the one hand, it deals with the most intense, acute experiences of pain in a human life. On the other hand, these moments are unique and “localised”, that is, they are connected to a concrete time and space, of which the details are forever inscribed in memory.”)

My favourite work from the show is Louise Bourgeois 10AM IS WHEN YOU COME TO ME (2006) – drawings on music paper of mainly red hands, the key a drawing of a 10am clock with a man the big hand with hands extended drawing towards him (or is it tethered to him) an armless woman, the small hand. Some have seen these as “ambiguous images of a hermetic cosmos, as acts of violence or love” but they represent “both Bourgeois’s hands and those of her friend and muse Jerry Gorovoy” and how he helps her and arrives at her studio at this, the designated hour.

To me they are joyous, liberating, spontaneous expressions of love and intimacy, fingerprints on the page, hands intertwining together. They made me feel the intimate expression of humanity: holding a babies hand, so small and vulnerable and feeling them grasp your hand. That connection is what Bourgeois achieves with this work and I thought it was wonderful.

This exhibition is no easy ride but is well worth the contemplation necessary to tease out the themes and feelings that the work investigates.

Dr Marcus Bunyan


  1. Steve Howard, Frank Vetere, Martin Gibbs, Jesper Kjeldskov, Sonja Pedell, Karen Mecoles, Marcus Bunyan, and John Murphy. Mediating Intimacy: Digital Kisses and Cut and Paste Hugs. 2004.


Louise Bourgeois. 'TEN AM IS WHEN YOU COME TO ME' (detail) 2006


Louise Bourgeois (French-American, 1911-2010)


Louise Bourgeois. 'TEN AM IS WHEN YOU COME TO ME' 2006


Louise Bourgeois (French-American, 1911-2010)



Australian Centre for Contemporary Art
111 Sturt Street, Southbank
Victoria 3006, Australia
Phone: 03 9697 9999

Opening hours:
Tuesday – Friday 10am – 5pm
Saturday – Sunday 11am – 5pm
Monday Closed
Open all public holidays except Christmas Day and Good Friday

Australian Centre for Contemporary Art website


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Dr Marcus Bunyan

Dr Marcus Bunyan is an Australian artist and writer. His art work explores the boundaries of identity and place. He writes Art Blart, an art and cultural memory archive, which posts mainly photography exhibitions from around the world. He holds a Doctor of Philosophy from RMIT University, Melbourne, a Master of Arts (Fine Art Photography) from RMIT University, and a Master of Art Curatorship from the University of Melbourne.

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