Kissing Taboo Goodbye with Sylvia Grace Borda

KPU’s inaugural artist in residence discussed the political history of the kiss

Sylvia Grace Borda, KPU’s inaugural artist in residence. (Kristen Frier)

Kwantlen Polytechnic University’s inaugural artist in residence, Sylvia Grace Borda, spoke on Oct. 24 about an exhibition of hers entitled The Kissing Project. During the first half of the event, she provided context for attendees about how kissing appears in art.

Kissing first emerges in historical depictions as familial and non-romantic in Madonna and Child, or in “Virgin Eleousa” as pecks on the cheek from mother to son. Gradually, it becomes more passionate and romanticized as shown through Rodin’s famous sculpture, The Kiss.

Early film also played a role in defining how kisses were viewed, as well as the average duration of kisses, the amount of “lust” able to be shown through a kiss, and the physical position of the actors.

Post-WWII, the Paris government hired photographers to help create social propaganda to “re-brand” the city as one full of joy and love. Actors were hired to kiss in the streets for photo-ops to lift spirits and encourage a baby boom to rebuild the population.

“It was really the Americans who made Paris ‘The City of Love’,” says Borda. Vogue magazine published some of these photos taken in Paris with English captions that encouraged the notion that kissing in the streets of Paris was something that people really did in the late 1950s and early 1960s.

Borda says that “the kiss is never neutral,” and that the evolution of kissing always seems to hold hands with some form of social progress.

The Kissing Project examines the kiss as a political symbol. The original inspiration for her work, a modest black and white photo of two people kissing, is called Doukhobor Couple Kissing by an unknown photographer. It can be found in Touchstones Nelson Museum of Art and History located in Nelson, B.C.

The photo, according to Borda, is of two Doukhobors, Russian dissenters known for radical pacifism, standing outside of the Nelson courthouse. The man and woman are cousins and the woman is about to be convicted for some kind of political activism.

This particular project has been kept within the heart of Nelson, the Kootenay town with a reputation for its rich arts and culture scene due to its history of protests and activism. It also celebrates the Doukhobor culture which thrives there.

For the project, Borda took out an ad in the local paper calling for people who want photos of them kissing. They could be kissing others, pets, objects, or whatever else they wanted. Participants explain where they want the photo to be taken, why, what, and who they want to kiss, and when they are free to meet.

Borda then takes 360-degree images of the kiss and uploads them on Google Maps. It took five years of negotiating with Google to have her images implemented as part of the map, but for now it is there—that is until Google Maps has to update its photos.

In addition to being KPU’s artist in residence until December, Borda has also been trying to establish a “Kissing Trail” in Nelson for people to take selfies on.

“Screw Paris,” she says. “Nelson can be the new kissing capital!”

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