THE ISLAND OF
PERPETUAL
TICKLING (I-III)
Vika Kirchenbauer, single-channel video (III) + three-channel video installation (I-III), 2018
video still from THE ISLAND OF PERPETUAL TICKLING


When critique is said to “tickle” it suggests that it provokes lightly, but is equally understood to be mostly free of significant consequences. In an ideal situation, tickling is consensual, it means no harm and respects the boundaries of the ticklee… either out of affection or dependence. It thus seems a great metaphor for much of “Critical Art” that frequently exists foremost in order to fulfil the tickler with a sense of agency and action independent of any actual intent to dismantle the structures that hold them. Art institutions on the other hand need the artist-tickler because it proves impossible to tickle oneself – another is required whose movements are not entirely predictable. The art system as an island of perpetual tickling…

But do art and critique really “tickle” in the sense that actual tickling can tickle?

The metaphor might in fact be misleading and unsuccessful insofar as many tickling relationships can slip into dominance and abuse in ways that critical art itself does not. Art institutions and artists do strive for power, yet an examination of tickling might help reframe such pursuits and fantasies of achieving power. Tickling is torture used by evil siblings. Tickling is also the only action used on children by adults with social acceptance that is elsewhere a military interrogation method.

Laughter is commonly read by others as a pleasure response, yet it might also be a misperceived panic reflex. Even against better knowledge, it seems difficult to believe that someone suffers as they are laughing… Being tickled can trigger trauma moving across the skin… while being ticklish might be a necessary vulnerability preserved by the individual in order to be alive in the world.

video stills from THE ISLAND OF PERPETUAL TICKLING