An Interview with Morgan Catalina for COME ALIVE

By Sydney van Nieuwaal

Photo #1 by Lotte Dale
Photo #2-5 by Gert Jan van Rooij

COME ALIVE channels, steers and plays with the power of eroticism in the form of an immersive exhibition in Het Nieuwe Muntgebouw in Utrecht. “Bodies vibrate with their surroundings, oxytocin diffusers are given free rein, and we train each other’s vagus nerve. Together we find a way out of the hyper-commercialization of romantic love and sexuality, creating alternatives to the increasing loneliness people are experiencing.” We spoke with Morgan Catalina who curated the exhibition together with Ine Gevers.

Hi Morgan! How was the opening of COME ALIVE?

It was a great night with such beautiful people! We had a lively panel of experts sharing their views on sex. All entering from different perspectives: design, art, public health and activism. The panel-talk was followed by an amazing and vulnerable performance by Mystique Angel Garcon, which was about letting go of shame. Throughout the evening there were plenty of spontaneous performances taking places within the artworks. And, of course, the night found its end with an epic dance party by Queer in Wonderland and Sophie du Palais. It was truly a magical night.

The website of COME ALIVE reads that “the physical experience helps us to unlearn ingrained behavior and to admit new knowledge, allowing us to look at ourselves and others through new lenses.” Could you elaborate on this? Could you illustrate that with an example?

Right now, we live in a paradox of being more connected yet more isolated than ever, as so many of our interactions with each other are mediated through a screen. Unmediated physical experiences can surprise you; they can help taking you to new areas and help to show the complexity of our bodies, hormones and nerves and how they work together. In that sense, these unexpected movements and reactions can open you up. In the exhibition we want people’s bodies to be the first responders. For example, we have sensuous scents from Frank Bloem, vibrations from Jan Koen Lomans and sounds from the kinetic breathing walls of Mette Sterre. There are energetic dances from ORGIE, Zoi Tatapolous and the sWitches… and you are also encouraged to touch many of the installations. From Bas Kosters ‘Juicy House’ house to Yamuna Forzani’s colorful set, from Company New Heroes’ seductive installation to the vibrating hot dogs of Oscar Peters.

Do you think the physical experience can forge barriers, making it more difficult to unlearn and learn, as well?

Following recent periods of long isolation, we may have become more closed off and can be reticent to open up to new experiences. Sometimes trauma causes us to shut down because past experiences were so painful. The skin, the nervous system, and our bodies in general, are very complex and good at protecting us. Yet embracing our fears is often the only way through them. We view what happens often as contradictory, but essentially many of the knots we need to work through via erotics and sexuality are paradoxes. They may seem like contractions, but in fact they are not. It’s all about finding balance. We hope COME ALIVE might help you to open up towards new experiences. If you are up for it, of course.

“Through touch, image, smell and sound, the COME ALIVE artists pull out all the stops to make our bodies the first and most important gatekeepers.” You touched upon it briefly earlier, but could you tell me a bit more about how ‘the senses’ are incorporated in the visitor experience?

The exhibition aims to open all your senses, and in surprising ways. COME ALIVE is more of an immersive theater than a traditional museum show. Many artworks are non-disciplinary in the sense that they combine many styles, aiming for the ultimate experience. They merge touch, image, smell and sound into something tangible and holistic. There is a lot to experience visually, but COME ALIVE ‘touches’ you on all other sensual areas. The eye might be overrated.

COME ALIVE is hosted in Het Nieuwe Muntgebouw. As you fittingly stated: “where rock-hard coins were once minted, everything becomes fluid”. Did the space open up interesting ways of composing and placing the exhibition?

Absolutely. Each room is different and has its unique character, and we wanted to play with that. We use the large-scale industrial spaces at the back of the Muntgebouw, which for us were a fitting home to propose new, more fluid values, juxtaposed against the neo-classical building standing for centralized currency, aka power. We decided to compose the artworks in such a way that they would work best in the individual spaces, and together. It was more about finding the right relationships and flow between the artworks, rather than forcing specific themes by room. If visitors want to experience the show according to a more in depth narrative, they can follow one of four self-guided tours; 1) Precarity as a Soft Weapon, 2) Unboxing our Sexuality, 3) The Healing Potential of Touch, and 4) Intersect Now.

It seems that COME ALIVE is focused on extracting sex from all that often orbits around; money, power, love, and look at it in a purer form. Am I reading this correctly?

We do not aim for extracting sex from all of that necessarily. It’s more about showing that sexuality is inherently connected to almost all aspects of our lives. Humans are inherently sexual beings. We cannot deny that by separating it from other arenas. Our cheeky tagline “It’s about m̶o̶n̶e̶y̶,̶ ̶p̶o̶w̶e̶r̶,̶ ̶l̶o̶v̶e̶  sex, stupid!” shows how sex is implicated in so many domains, but doesn’t have to be trapped within them. Western society has completely commodified and monetized our need for intimacy and sensual connection. In COME ALIVE we try to free eroticism and sexuality from these industrial complexes. We try to give people ownership of their own eroticism, desire and bodies. There lies a revolutionary force within this, because when we see how much we can do for ourselves and others without gatekeepers and their paradigm of shame, we can reject oppression in many other forms as well. To see this revolutionary power, we only have to look at restrictions placed on sexuality by conservative and totalitarian regimes – both past and present. Women and non-binary people have been oppressed for centuries because they bring people together, creating shared communities around pleasure, ritual, care and connection. Once eroticism – in this sense – comes into play, there is no way you can control it. We cannot afford to forget this power.

Those words carry a lot of beautiful power. Thank you for sharing that. Could you tell us a bit more about how this focus formed?

We conceptualized COME ALIVE as an experiential exhibition unleashing the power of eroticism as a life force in these precarious times. Precarity in the sense of recovering from a collective trauma due to corona, the ongoing climate crisis, economic instability and the increasingly uncertain living conditions of a growing number of people. Especially for young people. We see eroticism as a powerful tool to help us reconnect to ourselves, and each other, in this context.

Can you reflect a bit on the curational process? In other words; can you tell me something about what you and Ine Gevers wanted to show at COME ALIVE?

First we developed a strong and solid concept by doing research, involving both artists and their work, and theory, critical as well as affirmative. We wrote a positionality statement to acknowledge our perspectives and limitations, and visited a dominatrix studio – anything for the research! We think developing this concept is crucial, as it creates the context for a plurality of voices to exist and expand. Sexuality is so individual, there is no ‘one true way’. So, it was really important for us to show a broad range of perspectives, to expand beyond the notion that sex is an act you undertake with your genitals. We also want to show that we don’t have to limit ourselves to binaries such as masculine/feminine, dominant/submissive, pleasure/pain. It’s more complex, especially in a time when claiming the right to be more than one identity can be so urgent. We wanted to create a show that was affirming to many different sexualities. We wanted to remind people that they have agency, and that whatever choices they make, they are valid as long as they realize they are making a choice.

Can you tell me some more about the research or experiences that formed this curational view?

As a curator for SXSW, I learned the power of bringing diverse people together and how important the rituals of live performance are. Unexpected connections outside our cozy bubbles can lead to something profound. Recently I became a Holistic Sexuality Educator, and this exhibition is the thesis of my research on sexuality as a form of individual and collective healing. I’d been working with Ine on her last two shows, FAKE ME HARD and (IM)POSSIBLE BODIES, so we decided to join forces and explore this idea together. She has extensive knowledge producing large-scale exhibitions for almost 30 years via her foundation Stichting Niet Normaal – which was crucial to developing the show. Her focus on inclusive innovation, queerness and diversity brought such a key perspective, and bridging our energies worked well. It was a really fun process, and I believe it shows in the exuberant moments of the exhibition.

Is there anything else you’d like to share?

We hope COME ALIVE energizes people. We also developed an ‘aftercare’ publication, containing somatic exercises and further reading, so people can dive in and learn more at home. That, alongside weekly events like porn film premieres, masculinity workshops, free GGD consults, and a ball with Kiki House of Angels. Show, don’t tell <3.

COME ALIVE is open until July 31st, in Het Nieuwe Muntgebouw, Utrecht. Find more info on the exhibition and its program here.