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“The first connection you have as a human is your mom - she’s the first person you touch. And it's a safe space; you are floating and your mom’s protecting you, and that’s just beautiful.”

Following the success of MaMA’s previous exhibition, Touch Me, To See Us, Team MaMA member and editor Cassandra Langenskiöld sat down with programme maker, creator, and artist Giovanni Maisto Ferreira to reflect on the process of creating the exhibition. Giovanni also discusses the evolution of the exhibition and the surprises he/they encountered along the way.

Cassandra: Hi Giovanni! I want to start by asking how you conceptually and practically translated the themes and images that we see in your short film, Touch ‘M, to the physical space of the showroom.

Giovanni: The film was my graduation project at Willem de Kooning Academy in 2020, and I wanted to create something that looked like skin for my set design. So, I did a lot of research about what skin looks like and what types of skins there are, what it looks like under a microscope. So, one of the things you see in the film you also see in the showroom – the layers of skin. In the film I didn’t call it that, but in the room where the bed is, you look up and you see all this skin on the ceiling.

Cassandra: And what is that made of?

Giovanni: It’s made of tape. When you see it in the film it looks beautiful, but it’s actually even better to have a room where you can experience it. The original idea was to create a whole room like that, but that’s too much work; I didn’t have the time to do it, so I just used this paper that’s almost like skin to create a whole installation. Another work you can see in the film, in the scene where three performers are laying their heads on each other, is an installation I created with plastic; melted it and created a lot of structure and coloured it, and I did this again in the showroom. This time I didn’t colour it and I melted it in a different way – that’s the white organic structure you see installed on the ceiling in the largest room, symbolising the fluids of the womb.

Cassandra: What I really like about this show is that the showroom is basically unrecognisable. You enter and don’t know what’s what; the room that was there before is gone. Was it important to you that it looks so different from how it usually does?

G: Yeah. First of all, I really wanted to create something different to what anyone had done before, that’s just the way I like to work. I love Showroom MaMA, but what I don’t love about it is that, if there is a show and you just pass by, it’s a glass box, so you can just walk past and think, “oh, I saw it, I don’t need to enter the space”. But the main reason was to create a safe space, a warm space, a space where you feel like you are embraced by the installations and the concept – the idea of going back to your mother’s womb. The first human connection you have as a child, as a human, is your mom, she’s the first person you touch. And it’s a safe space; you are getting nutrients, you are floating, your mom’s protecting you, and that’s just beautiful. I wanted to create something that reminds you of that feeling. I don’t think there’s any human who can remember this feeling, of being in the womb. So, I needed to create something to close the space off. The idea was to have a show where you enter and become a part of the exhibition; it’s not just about looking at an object or reading about it, but really creating an immersive experience. This exhibition is nothing without people; you have to go there, you have to experience it, you have to lay down on the floor installation, sit on the organically-shaped seating objects [created by designer Vivian Huizenga], on the swing. There are certain actions that are required to really understand and experience it.


Cassandra: I was also wondering about the cutouts in the main room that overlook the Witte de Withstraat; were they designed for someone looking in or for those in the showroom looking out? Do they have a symbolic function?

Giovanni: This exhibition had two openings; we had a soft opening in December and the grand opening in January. During the first opening there were no holes, just the cave entrance, and I wanted to do it like this because it’s actually a very intimate space; I wanted to keep it curious. People entered anyway, because the cave opening was very attractive to people, but I did notice that people who might be afraid to enter – those who have no affiliation with art – would never go inside because they would think, “oh, what’s this, I don’t know, I’m scared”. Which, at the end of the day, was really not true because there were so many visitors who had nothing to do with art but were just intrigued by the look of the show, the feeling. Children also thought of it as a sort of fun house. So, when I created the holes, it was actually to symbolise those first moments before a child’s birth. Once that water breaks, it’s the first sign the baby is coming. Also, there’s water everywhere in the showroom which is symbolic of the fluids in the mother’s womb. Some holes are cut so that you can see a bit of the organic installation material. I also just wanted to make people curious and make them ask themselves, “what is inside, is it safe, is it nice, what can I do in there?”. And it worked fantastically!

Cassandra: A big part of the appeal of your show seems to be that it’s so physical and that it’s about the human experience, which everyone can relate to. In your film, we hear the lyric, “feminine and masculine energy occupying the same space”, [from the accompanying track by artist OTION] and I was wondering if you also tried to reflect that in the showroom?

Giovanni: Yes, totally, but I do think that the show by itself is more feminine. If you look at the shapes, the colours, and the feelings and if you think about the womb, it’s all feminine. The film was the starting point for me in exploring intimacy and what it actually could be, and the film was more about what it means to be intimate in a male-representing body. In that lyric, it’s really about embracing the feminine side; with this show, we have gone further, now we embrace the feminine side and go back to the ultimate femininity, motherhood. We embrace it because it’s safe, it’s beautiful, and it’s necessary. Feminine energy is experienced as more vulnerable, more intimate, and more physical than masculine energy.


Cassandra: So, the show is kind of an evolution of the film?

Giovanni: It’s like a sequel. First, we explored intimacy between people with male-representing bodies. And when these people are intimate with each other – and this is not a typical image we see in the media right now – and when they show a lot of skin, it can quickly move into the realm of the sexual, but that’s precisely the problem. I discovered that what I feel is that touch in general is so sexualised in this western world that we live in. The #MeToo movement was amazing and had undeniable benefits in giving people a voice, but the downside is that now people are afraid to touch at all. Because they don’t know how to touch, and that’s not good; if you don’t know how, just ask.

"A child just follows their intuition - and that’s what this exhibition is about: following your intuition. Being intimate, being loving, being caring."

Cassandra: You said that the show is a universal experience – we all come from a mother – but I think there’s also some personal elements for you in the showroom. Especially the scents, inspired by your childhood.

Giovanni: The whole exhibition is triggering your senses – sight, of course, touch, and taste (during the opening). Personally, I think scents, smells, or perfumes can trigger the most intense memories for humans. The three in the showroom include the forest where I grew up in Germany, the other one is the smell of my grandmother, and the third is what happens when it’s dry for a very long time and it rains, that particular moment when the grass and stones smell. It always made me happy as a child. All these memories are childhood memories, and if you look around the room in which they’re placed, it’s actually a playground: you have swings, you can lay down, it’s colourful. It goes back to being vulnerable and open. I think that the most vulnerable and least opinionated people are always children,because children haven’t built up all these fears and judgements we learn from our parents, our communities, from TV or books. A child looks at another child and gives it a hug or a kiss, plays with it, no matter the age, skin colour, or gender. And that’s beautiful, because a child just follows their intuition – and that’s what this exhibition is about: following your intuition. Being intimate, being loving, being caring.


Cassandra: How did you work with Spyros [Drosopoulos] to create these scents?

Giovanni: Spyros is a magician – I just explained my ideas to him. For example, I told him it smells like grass when it’s cut, but not when it’s dry. That’s a totally different smell. Then he just put stuff under my nose – this, this, this – and combined it to make a perfume. The one of my grandmother was quite easy, because a lot of grandmothers actually smell the same, like perfume-y.

Cassandra: We’ve talked a lot about the intentions you had when making this exhibition, but I’d also like to know how you felt when you saw the show come to life in such a tangible way? Was it how you’d imagine it would be?

Giovanni: Yes, but there were a few things I wanted to do differently or do more of. Unfortunately, every day, things were falling off or breaking, because this exhibition was not made for 500 people a day – all the breathing and humidity stays in the space, which I didn’t think of before, and that’s okay. But I had this moment when I looked around and thought, “actually, this is really beautiful, it’s really calming and soothing”. I was always so critical, such a perfectionist…I always saw the mistakes and things I didn’t like. But I completely forgot why I’m doing this [the show], about the beauty of the materials. All the materials you can see were made by me, there is nothing that was bought and just placed in the showroom. All the fabric was treated with a technique I created and even the tiles on the floor were cut in a special way. What I am realising is that it really does create the feeling of calm, love, intimacy, safety…and I really see the beauty in it, but the beauty in imperfections.

Cassandra: If you had one wish about how someone would feel after seeing your show, what would it be?

Giovanni: I knew it was a good show and that it was a good idea, and that it looked good, but I have to say that I was surprised about the reactions. Some people sent me very sweet and personal messages via Instagram. For example, there was this mother that came into the room and just cried because she had just lost her son. And this show is all about motherhood, about safety. There was also this Turkish woman who was on holiday in Rotterdam and recorded a video of herself in the showroom saying something like, “I feel so good, I feel so loved and cared for, I want to stay here for a long time”. And I was like wow, people are really enjoying it. Sometimes I would go inside without telling anyone I was there, to just be a spectator of the other visitors and I had these moments…First of all, I was always shocked at how full it always was because that was not my intention – this exhibition was created for 5 people, maximum 10. Because otherwise you don’t experience it like I wanted it to be experienced; you have to experience it in a slow, calm and peaceful way. The idea was just to go there with your friend or your family. But when I saw people there sitting down on the benches and talking with each other – one time I saw a whole family – I thought, “wow, it works”. One of the hosts told me there was a person who came back for 3 days, or people laying in the bed for a long time. And it’s so important to show a work like this at Witte de With, a very cold, hard space with a lot of parties, alcohol and things going on. There is no moment of centering, breathing in, feeling yourself. But with this show, I think I really managed to create that space.

Watch the video below to relive the exhibition in the showroom.


Creator & Curator: Giovanni Maisto Ferreira

Scenography & Object Design: Vivian Huizenga

Videographer: Thomas de Boer

Music: Ambient Boy


Photography: Sabine van der Vooren

Touch Me, To See Us took place at MaMA between 16 December 2022 and 19 March 2023. The show was created and curated by Giovanni Maisto Ferreira and explored the importance and power of consensual and loving touch, inspired by the idea of the uterus as a primary safe haven. Perfumes and fragrances formulated by Spyros Drosopoulos (PhD) and scenography by Vivian Huizenga.

Through his/their artistic-social practice, artist Giovanni Maisto Ferreira emphasizes that consensual touching requires a vulnerable attitude. This is why he/they wants to amplify the importance of healthy, wholesome physical connections within our communities.

In 2020, GIovanni’s film touch ‘M was released: ‘a symbolic depiction of the ways in which non-secual touch can be a healing tool regarding certain aspects of toxic masculinity.’ Touch M is based on his/their own experiences with physical connection while being in a male representing body. This project was also the starting point of his/their ongoing investigation into healthy forms of intimacy. Touch Me, To See Us is a sequel to this film.

Giovanni is part of MaMa’s programme poule 2022-2023.


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