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Please do not reuse without permission.  If you are interested in purchasing this video, or in having the artists mount a version of Public Displays in your community, please contact Marsha Gordon


Public Displays is a collaborative, multi-media performance and exhibition in which the public is invited to enter our version of Thomas Edison’s Black Maria studio and “give us a kiss” on camera, just like May Irwin and John C. Rice did for Thomas Edison Co. over 120 years ago.  The newly recorded videos are projected in the gallery alongside the original 1896 film, all set to playful kiss-themed music, and become part of a final video work that will mix Edison’s original film with the kisses recorded during the Public Displays installation.

The first iteration of Public Displays took place in February of 2016 at Flanders Gallery in Raleigh, NC.  We designed and fabricated Public Displays with mobility and repeatability in mind.   Does your gallery/library/museum/community center want to host a Public Displays event?  If so, contact Marsha Gordon for information on the cost and logistics for bringing Public Displays to your neck of the woods.

Explore Public Displays​

The Thinking Behind “Public Displays”

Thomas Edison's 20-second, 35mm Kinetograph film of the actress May Irwin and actor John C. Rice performing a kiss in 1896 is known as the first on-screen kiss in film history.  But what does it mean to perform a kiss in the first place?  Irwin and Rice were clearly performing—in fact, their kiss was a reenactment of a moment in a New York stage comedy, “The Widow Jones,” that the two were performing in at the time. Actors and actresses frequently perform kisses. Do we?  When we kiss in private, in public, or in some in-between spaces, do we alter our actions for a perceived audience, even if it is for the person we are kissing? This installation ponders such questions in the digital, post-privacy, exhibitionist age that we all, like it or not, inhabit.

As the New York World reported in their April 26, 1896 coverage of The Kiss, "six hundred different phases of a kiss leave little to the imagination."

Although playful and meant to be an enjoyable experience for the filmed and for gallery visitors, this installation intends to explore ideas about intimacy, privacy, theatricality, sexuality, and the way that people display affection in an age of digital circulation.  At a time when we share so much about our lives online, how does it feel to do something as intimate as a kiss in front of a camera, and then to have that act projected to an audience?

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