We lost our innocence at the springs awakening. Then we were charged up and moved to activate. We came together though separated apart without the underlying issues of the touch. With discussing the embrace and sexuality lack of sensations the artist and photographer James Mountford unwittingly released a body of work in form of his book TOUCHED which culminated in his way of enduring the current status of Covid saturation and familial sense of isolation. The project provided a way to help him survive as well as cope with the loss of his brother who fell Ill to the virus.

Photographed by James Mountford.

An artist with a long storied career between editorial works in magazines ranging from Vogue and Harpers Bazaar to i-D and Dazed & Confused, his gallery displays of sculptural, video, and photographic depictions of abstracted human forms delved into the sense of long strewn humanity and distilled to a definitive exploration of self. In more recent years he has come to an equilibrium collaborating with a generation of thoughtful creatives from Banks, Ciara, Chance the Rapper, Lawrence Rothman, Laura Harrier, Sasha Lane, and Xhoana X. With a magnificent forward and subsequent email dialog by the curator Yvhonne Lacroix, the book well bridges a sense of primal modernism. We discuss this matter with him as the book reaffirms a sense of possibilities to come and fetishizes a lifestyle we have lost.

How did this project come together? Have you felt like this body of work has been useful to your growth and well being in this time?

There was a moment when everything started to unravel, I’m sure everyone experienced it, cancellation of projects I had spent months working on, huge financial loss, that wave of fear that swept the country. Then one morning a week into the lockdown an email from someone I didn’t know telling me my brother had been taken to hospital in the UK with covid. I never got to speak to him. It was devastating, like free falling and slamming into rock bottom. 

I went through a time of intense grief and introspection and then one morning I decided I should make a book or manifesto recording this moment in time, the feelings and the grieving process I was going through, the world was going through, and the cruel twist that when people are hurting and in need of physical touch we were forced into isolation. I guess the book is a pure reaction to that, a celebration of touch, connection, human interaction and hope. I needed to revisit all the things that made me feel alive, in doing so it lifted me out of my grief, reminded me of all the things that are important, reprioritized my life at home and at work. So yes it lead to a moment of profound self growth and ultimately well being. Just like in life, in death my brother taught me so much and I am grateful for that

Your photo and video work often utilizes a very primal treatment to the human form, do you think we lost vantage point and overall sensory? 

I would say there’s been a sensory overload specifically towards the depiction of the body, its been overly sexualized and pushed towards unreal and impossible body ideals. I think it’s incredibly toxic to us as a society to encourage the idolization of the “perfect” body. In my practice I try to collaborate with real people, with real bodies, anyone that’s interested in exploring their own vessel is welcome in my studio, exploring what can be done with it, how it can be represented in an unconventional, primal and raw form. That’s a constant source of beauty to me, not a perfectly toned and preened model. 

Do you see it ever returning to the visual language of intimacy? What has also been the point of inspiration for you in the new narrative of touch?

I’ve spoken at length with my wife Leena about this, trying to imagine what the future will look like for us. In nature throughout evolution micro changes in environment, climate, sudden introduction of new viruses or foreign species, have caused catastrophic effects, complete break down of ecosystems, extinction, mass displacement. Everything is so delicately balanced and interconnected. The societal shift a global pandemic can cause could easily be the precursor to one of those collapses. How can we predict what the post covid world will look like? Maybe the age of intimacy and touch will be relegated to the history books? I had started re working a video piece called Demise of a Species at the end of 2019, 8 months later looking at that footage of 30 naked people, engaged in physical intimacy and touch seems wildly decadent and almost impossible. So I don’t know what a new narrative of touch would look like, but as this reset happens i feel that we must embrace the opportunity, be critical of our values, reject being measured by wealth and popularity, find a smaller, more intimate community with which to interact, share, nurture, embrace. That would be a point of real inspiration for me.

Very much in tune with the QooA identity! I was speaking with a friend about sex and dating for the kids, the idea of graduating but not getting a chance to get wasted at a house party and hook up. The kids will find a way but Is the way which we will treat depictions of sexuality as something of a norm be altered?

Yes surely it must be altered! The mainstream depictions of sexuality are so dated, one dimensional and patriarchal, its time they changed, looking at the kids spaces that they have created online, in social media, its such a wonderful, multifaceted and rich expression of self/sexuality. As mainstream media; movies, tv shows, magazines struggle to create slick, big budget, homogenized content due to the pandemic restrictions we will start to see the emergence of home made, creative, free expression into the mainstream, that will hopefully change it forever. We don’t need TV or record execs when we have the creative energy of our youth to lead us!

The sexual amalgamation of the bodies lack a sense of sexual confrontation, I feel drawn deeply into the act of touching more than ever. How do you see that being utilized in the future of your work?

Great question, I’ve been thinking about this a lot, more and more I’ve been feeling like the process of making the work is more important/interesting than the final piece. The energy created by 30 naked people in a room is immense. there’s a release, a return to something primal. Once you’re in that space there is no sexual confrontation, it’s just about being present, you give up your shroud of insecurities, you really transcend to different plain. It’s that energy than is the purest part of the work, and so difficult to capture. And so now I’m interested in bringing the audience to be present at the inception of the piece, experience that energy, participate, engage. I’m in the process of putting together a group performative video shoot in the desert where the audience travels out to be part of the process.

Have you gone deeper into your artistic collaborations with your wife Leena in the midst of quarantine? 

Throughout quarantine we have become incredibly close and our work has now become beautifully and complexly intertwined. 

What are your thoughts and hopes for your sonkiiijm Cosmo as his upbringing is currently dictated by the current worlds status. 

We are at a tipping point right now, I can only hope that the political and financial systems that seek to hold us in subjugation, segregation and senseless fear begin to collapse, we must fight for it and educate our children for them to continue to resist the establishment, that’s my hope for C, that he is a free thinker, unburdened by societal norms, able to discern truth, love, empathy. 

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