The antique statue of the Sleeping Hermaphroditus was unearthed in Rome in the 17th century, but several copies of it exist. The original statue was complemented by a marble bed by Gian Lorenzo Bernini, and the work can be seen in this form in the Louvre. At first glance, the back of a beautiful female body unfolds in front of the viewers, lying on the padded bed radiating sincere serenity. However, the sleeping hermaphrodite keeps a secret. It is only by going around the statue and looking at the other side that they realize that the feminine figure also has male genitalia. A recurring element of cultural topos related to hermaphrodism, intersexuality, and transgenderism is this surprise factor: “She’s a very beautiful woman, only if you know what’s under her skirt!”. These oppressed members of our society often play the role of mentally impaired criminals in books and films. However, the original antique sculpture cannot be interpreted solely in terms of binary gender roles or the abnormality that differs from them. The reclining figure radiates serenity, the pose seems self-evident. He/she is not disturbed by the searching gaze, as he/she apparently lies naked on the bed voluntarily, in fact, hermaphroditus almost empowers the viewer to thoroughly examine and study the seemingly ambivalent details of his/hers figure with his gaze.
In ancient Greece and Rome, to the best of our knowledge, hermaphrodite children were a distinctly bad omen. The sculptures made of them were intended exclusively for the male gaze. Ovid in Metamorphoses wrote about the history of the origin of the Hermafordite. According to the story, the incomparably beautiful Hermaphroditus was the son of Aphrodite and Hermes. At the age of fifteen, during his travels, he found the small lake of the nymph Salmacis, where the nymph, not caring about the boy’s rejection, threw himself at Hermaphroditus. Salmacis was so flooded with desire to have sex with the boy that she asked the heavens to make them one. The gods listened to her request and granted it. As a desperate revenge, Hermaphroditus asked them to curse the waters of the lake, whoever would enter, became impotent.
The Ovidius narrative — which is, of course, just one of many stories of origin — illustrates that our relationship to sexuality and gender identities has always caused many internal and external conflicts. Thus, the current discourse on the social integration of transgender people is not new. While these discourses are indispensable and hopefully constructive, we often run into the mistake that because the issue is discomforting to us, we want to take a stand immediately. We have a hard time recognizing ambivalence and accepting its inevitability. Furthermore, in the theories, conversations, and debates that move on an abstract level, we often forget the specific, tangible human stories that still weigh heavily on individuals who are unable to face them alone.
Ambivalence and isolation are also central to the installation seen in the ENA Viewing Space. The kiss of the Sun captures the moment of grace that we can all experience when, in situations full of ordeal, as a kind of instinctive escapist gesture, we turn to the Sun with our eyes closed to leave the difficulties that accompany us for a few seconds. We can escape the problems of the Earth in this independent, warm space all while experiencing an undeniably universal human experience.