The kiss, the moment when lips touch and hearts skip a beat has inevitably been a subject widely explored in all artistic expressions. In this series the artist Mounir Fatmi explores ‘the kiss’ in the photo montage collection Casablanca Circles, Kissing Circles and the published book The Kissing Precise. The series captures the moment through Cartesian geometry at the point where circles touch, using one of the most famous cinematic kisses of all time, Humphrey Bogarts and Ingrid Bergman’s final kiss in the wartime romance that is Casablanca.
Celebrated and unforgettable Casablanca is set in the Vichy controlled Moroccan city of the same name. Bogart and Bergman play lovers reunited who meet in a time and place where their love must remain unrealised. In the photograph series Casablanca Circles Fatmi explores the intimate and long awaited moment of film where Bogart and Bergman dance with heads inclined on the verge of a kiss. In bringing together the sequence of stills Fatmi captures the tension and anticipation of the lovers. An anticipation recognised by the audience as one of uneasy delight.
Fatmi found inspiration for his geometric kiss from scientist Frederick Soddy, a Nobel peace prize winner for chemistry who had also approached the matter of a kiss in his own work. In revisiting Descartes theorem of how circles and spheres osculate and the tangents that result, Soddy published a poem, an artistic response to his scientific approach of the solution of Descartes’ Theorem. The poem on these interfaces entitled ‘The Kissing Precise’ was published in a 1936/1937 issue of the journal Nature as at artistic representation of the science of desire.
By taking the film and poem as starting points Fatmi layers photographs of Bogart and Bergman’s final kiss with images of geometric circles and lines annotating the works with numbers and letters. The tangent circles of Descartes and Soddy are drawn on the images of the two main characters as they move closer to kiss. The diagrams directly relate to the trajectory of their movement towards each other, following their heads towards the inevitable moment, the consummation of the kiss. The images trace the progression from relative chaos to a point of balance where eyes meet. One could almost refer to it as a geometry of love.
Throughout the series Fatmi’s signature style is evident; his exploration of ideas using archives, science, poetry and concepts of the machine executed are executed in the clean black and white of photography and installation. This series of works is about love and formula making reference to the predictability of cinema romance, and the notion that although we as an audience devour these idealised moments we are aware that they are a calculated formula. This concept is emphasized in accompanying video projections of gears and machinery, cogs turning, the machine that is an endless moving process.
Casablanca is about an impossible love, Bergman’s character and her husband escape to Morocco from Nazi occupied Paris, their only hope is to get papers in order to travel to America. Their only contact and their only hope is Bergman’s former lover played by Bogart. Through Casablanca Circles, Kissing Circles Mounir Fatmi wants to make us believe that something is still possible. The infinity of circles always speaks of love and here they raise the viewer’s desire to see the completion of the character’s journey, the completion of their desire for each other.
In an article by Art Agenda “The Kissing Precise,” writes Mounir Fatmi, “connects a Hollywood kiss and the film of my adolescence with my combined obsessions with mastery and poetry, including a winner of a Nobel Prize for Chemistry, a geometry of feelings, a surprising poem about circles touching and, finally, two young Moroccans who, with their love, threw a whole society into tumult, and the world in which I live. Yes, everything is desire, everything is poetry, everything is science, everything is art and, finally, everything is politics.”
The Kissing precise
For pairs of lips to kiss maybe
Involves no trigonometry.
‘Tis not so when four circles kiss
Each one the other three.
To bring this off the four must be
As three in one or one in three.
If one in three, beyond a doubt
Each gets three kisses from without.
If three in one, then is that one
Thrice kissed internally.
Four circles to the kissing come.
The smaller are the benter.
The bend is just the inverse of
The distance from the center.
Though their intrigue left Euclid dumb
There’s now no need for rule of thumb.
Since zero bend’s a dead straight line
And concave bends have minus sign,
The sum of the squares of all four bends
Is half the square of their sum.
To spy out spherical affairs
An oscular surveyor
Might find the task laborious,
The sphere is much the gayer,
And now besides the pair of pairs
A fifth sphere in the kissing shares.
Yet, signs and zero as before,
For each to kiss the other four
The square of the sum of all five bends
Is thrice the sum of their squares.
Frederick Soddy, British radio-chemist, Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1921
In Nature, June 20, 1936