Hands Off

Touch Artist Milo Moiré, and She’ll Get Arrested

Milo Moiré invited strangers to reach into a reflective box and caress her breasts or vagina for 30 seconds. The British police were displeased.

via YouTube

In 2014, Milo Moiré burst onto the contemporary performance art scene with her provocative PlopEgg Painting: naked and squatting over a canvas outside Germany’s annual Art Cologne fair, the Swiss conceptual artist conceived an abstract painting by disgorging paint-filled eggs from her vagina.

Lest fair-goers mistake Moiré’s art for a burlesque show, the artist’s statement clarified that PlopEgg Painting was in fact a manifestation of “the creation [of] fear, the symbolic strength of the casual and the creative power of femininity.”

Two years later, Moiré continues to achieve fame by making a spectacle of herself under the guise of art, of course—most recently, with her Mirror Box performance, in which she invited strangers in Dusseldorf, Amsterdam, and London to reach into a reflective box and caress her breasts or vagina for 30 seconds.

Performing in London’s Trafalgar Square earlier this week, the artist was arrested for public indecency, spent 24 hours in a cell, and was given a “four-digit fine”—an apposite metric of success.

Following her release, Moiré told Dazed magazine that her arrest in London was indicative of the U.K.’s Brexit debate.

“The U.K. should remain in the EU,” she said, adding: “Europe is like a big family, in which you can’t choose the members and you prefer some more than the other [sic], but what Europe unites is the blood of freedom which flows in all. Keeping Great Britain in the EU makes this family stronger.”

As with all of her performances, Moiré captured Mirror Box on film. We see male and female passersby over age 18 engage Moiré—some timid, others smiling for the camera or creepily holding the artist’s gaze, which she meets with variously seductive and complacent expressions.

And that’s just the censored version. Viewers have to pay €8 to experience the performance piece in all its pornographic glory.

The titillating component of watching a conventionally attractive, naked woman allow strangers to grope her or flex her impressive kegel muscles in public evidently integral to Moiré’s message.

In her artist’s statement, Moiré explains the meaning behind Mirror Box:

“The audience’s reflection on the mirrored box simultaneously becomes a visual metaphor for the role reversal from voyeur to the object of view: a constant play of inversions analogous to our roles in the digital world.”

She also notes that Mirror Box was inspired by Valie Export’s Touch Cinema, a performance in 1968 wherein Export invited men and women on the street in Vienna to touch her breasts through a styrofoam box.

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Moiré’s Mirror Box is thus an uninspiring replica of a performance that was somewhat groundbreaking for a feminist artist in the ’60s. Whether Moiré’s audience pondered the effect of the “digital world” that her piece references is unclear.

But Mirror Box, like PlopEgg Painting, has certainly attracted attention. This is arguably the only takeaway from contemporary performance art: it enables people like Moiré to orchestrate shocking, absurdist spectacles and call them “art.”

The more controversial the spectacle, the more attention it gets in person and online.

Indeed, since PlopEgg Painting, Moiré has come out with ever more provocative performances, including one titled Naked Selfie outside Art Basel last year, which involved posing nude with awkward or leering locals (shockingly, it was such a success that she performed it again in Dusseldorf and Paris, in front of the Eiffel Tower).

When these heavy-handed, pseudo-intellectual performances influence culture, it’s often because they inspire satire. Even performance art pioneers in the ’60s and ’70s were satirized (think The Great Gonzo smashing a rock while screaming “Art!” in an early season of Jim Henson’s The Muppets; or being booed during one of his performances and grumbling backstage, “What do these people know about art!”).

Among Moiré’s other notable performances is an underwater video piece, Fluid Ecstasy, which “presents a metaphysically ambivalent ambience that documents our prenatal state of becoming in the form of a visual metaphor,” according to the artist’s statement.

Alas, this viewer failed to grasp the “ambivalent ambience” of watching a perennially nude Moiré gliding above the ocean floor a la Brooke Shields in Blue Lagoon.