The Thursday Night Tea Research Group Event Report: Skin with Yuting Liu

By Jade Jen

Class of 2023

We go gentle into that good night, in white suits, in paints, in illusions, and in skins that mark our nakedness. In the final installment of the four-part series on intimacy by The Thursday Night Tea Research Group, Yuting Liu presents an interactive performance to delve into the contradictory nature of intimacy by testing a theory in quantum physics, which claims we can never touch anything because the feeling of “touch” is a result of electrons repelling each other. As a costume and set designer, Yuting Liu’s interest focuses on exploring our relationship to the construction and deconstruction of our selves with visual design, cultural restoration, and performance art. He is an experienced designer for several plays and has also worked as a researcher on cultural restoration of traditional Chinese outfits at the National Museum of China, among other institutions.

Unlike previous events where lectures happen in a room, Liu stages this workshop outdoor at the platform between the basketball court and the Innovation Building. He begins the workshop by asking us to put on white suits, leaving only our eyes uncovered, and to gather in a circle. He defines the white suits as our skins and in the new skins we forsake our labels and our old selves. At a platform where people rarely pass by and in suits that forbid us from recognizing one another, intimacy is put to test in a strange sense of alienation. The space becomes heterotopic in isolation from the rest of the campus and the connection between people is distanced by the thin layer of plastic: our intimacy is nowhere, touching nobody.

Liu guides us through the first part of the workshop with meditation. “Think about a time when you felt happy,” says Liu, “think about details – the place, the time, and the people nearby…” Our thoughts wander away to different directions yet come back to the same point in the sharing of individual experience. It is contradictory, as we think about people who accompany us without having them by our sides and recollect past memories while never going back. Inevitable parallelism is generated: at the moment when we feel intimacy, our loss begins simultaneously. It is retrospective, then we proceed with expressions.

In the second part of the workshop, Liu transfers the emphasis from mind to body. Writing words and sentences on ourselves and others, we expose our emotions and feelings to public display. We become intimate by seeing people’s happiness, pain, sadness, and secrets alike. The expressions are of relief, but they are also tragic. Visual access of their inner worlds and physical touches between bodies do not make one truly understand what others are going through. No matter how close we feel we are with each other, this intimacy is always distant, with physical separation by the “skins” and gaps between mind and mind.Liu concludes the workshop with a performance in motion. People who wear the same sizes of suits are stuck together and are asked to move in any directions we want. The result of this interaction is not harmonious, in fact, many of us stumble and split as we walk against each other. We are close when we are stuck together, but somewhere in the connection we repel each other. The skins we wear are marks of our definitions and shields that push away extrinsic touches. This intimacy exists with isolation: we are bonded by our solitude.