Valeska Soares’s Fainting Couch, with its geometric shape and highly reflective surface, seems at first to recall 1960s minimalism, in particular works by Robert Morris (born 1931) such as the mirrored cubes of Untitled 1965/71 (Tate T01535). Approaching the work, a grid of evenly spaced holes drilled in the surface of the object becomes apparent, as does a heady aroma that pervades the air around the work. The perfume is that of the Stargazer lily, a highly scented flower. Bunches of these lilies are concealed in drawers inside the couch and replenished as needed while the object is on display.
While the object provides a structure to support a fainting body, the overpowering scent from the lilies mean that the very act of reclining on the couch might itself cause one to become faint. The implied action of lying down to recover, being further overcome by the scent, so needing to lie down, and so on, forms a neat embodiment of the circular narrative that occurs throughout much of Soares’s work.
Soares often uses perfume in her installations to represent desire and transgression of boundaries. In Fainting Couch, Soares uses the perfume of the flowers as a form of exquisite torture. She says: ‘I am really interested in that faint line between being seduced by something and being completely intoxicated by it. In my work perfume has become a metaphor for the possibilities of intoxication. It’s a substance that crosses that border between being pleasurable and being overintoxicating.’ (quoted in Muniz, p.52)
The rigid, clinical surfaces of the couch contrast with the softness and eroticism of the silk covered bolster cushion and the sweet-smelling flowers.
‘What if desire is not this faint line between being intoxicated by something or sickened? You can be intoxicated by many things: hate, desire, love. Our societies have become so normalized that one of the only transgressive points we have is this very faint line of intoxication... when you cross the line, even if it’s for a minute or so, you abandon yourself to something. You’ve lost control.’ (Soares quoted in Muniz, p.53)
While this surface of this work is clad with mirrored Perspex, Soares has made further versions of the work in polished Stainless Steel.
Valeska Soares: Vanishing point, exhibition catalogue, San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, 1999.
Vik Muniz, ‘Valeska Soares’, Bomb, vol. 74, 2001, pp.48-55.
Diana Nemiroff, Elusive Paradise: The Millennium Prize, exhibition catalogue, National Gallery of Canada, 2001.