The Crush: Four Parts in Words and Images
This photographic series is about 'The Crush'. Taking off from where our understanding of this phenomenon left off — a flimsy wistful girlish infatuation — and expanding (with inspiration from the words of author Chris Kraus) into an understanding of 'crushes' as a tool of reflection and personal empowerment.
The concept was developed collaboratively out of conversations with friend/collaborator, Rebecca Hall, who then worked at the concept through writing while Isabella played it out into image.
The crush is still relegated to the realm of hysteria, 'silly' teen girls, and supposed feminised weakness. As adults, we are expected to admit our crushes with a degree of shame — of our emotions, of our sexualities, of our sense that we might be worthy of our own desires. While people of all genders can, and do, develop crushes, our culture still imagines only one scenario: a foolish girl infatuated with an unattainable other (usually a boy or a man). Cisgender men's desires are, by contrast, not spoken of as 'crushes', but instead perceived as passions: quaking, lusty urges. Girlhood is where the infantilisation of feminine desire begins. But the crush can never be as simple as what we have been led to believe by our culture, which undervalues it. The crush is a dense mass of emotion, and as such it is a well of potential. If we were to treat this emotion with the respect that it deserves, we would be able to recognise this potential. To experience a crush is to become acutely aware of the potential that exists in ourselves, in others, and between each other.
Love me NOT— like a daisy will know what to make of this.
There is distance between what we know of our crush and the intimacy of what we imagine ourselves knowing. Nonetheless, we register opportunity to bridge that distance when our desires suddenly have a focus point. Despite the popular narrative, we cannot do justice to what a crush is without pushing back against the foolish girl paradigm. Beyond the profound recognition produced by infatuation, crushes are the human expression of our real and valid needs, projected outward onto a specific other. We see the other (the object of the crush) as someone who can meet and understand our needs. "I NEED TO LIE BACK TO FRONT WITH SOMEONE WHO ADORES ME," declares Jenny Holzer's projection-based artwork, 'Xenon for Berlin 1' (2001). Her projection works are displayed in public spaces, allowing us to experience what poet Henri Cole has called "the touch of light against the surface of public space." Holzer's work elevates the relevance of these desires, and creates a fantastic metaphor for the crush. We, too, externalise our private desires as the crush bubbles up, and our light finds its way to their surface.
The blankness is only comprehensible when smothered by light, which it seems to emit.
"Look," I said, "I'll admit that eighty percent of this was fantasy, projection. But it had to start with something real." So says Chris Kraus in her infamous ode to the crush, I Love Dick (1997). Blending memoir and fiction, the book explores Kraus' all-consuming crush on elusive, charming Dick. The book gained cult status a decade ago when it found a new audience of young feminists who connected with Kraus' "lonely girl phenomenology" (Kraus' own description). Why? Because the book reveals that the crush is hardly about the person we desire, or what we project onto them, at all. Through delving into her own psyche in obsessing over Dick, Kraus' semi-autobiographical character in the book comes to understand what it is that she felt she was lacking from the outset. Her infatuation, her recognition of the unmet potential in the two, her projection of emotion onto Dick, all these things provide the space for her to reflect. Ultimately, the crush pales in comparison to the self. We may find ourselves desiring another, but that does not make them crucial to our broader narratives. For all of the things that it is, a crush is not a relationship. It is an emotional experience that belongs to one person.
The walls are put up only to exist as reflections.
Whether the crush ever catalyses the kind of intimacy we might desire with the other or not, it has a life beyond itself. It can be an intense emotional experience to develop feelings for someone else, revealing elements of our own minds previously left untended. It's not that the crush itself needs to be fetishised. Firstly, not all people experience romantic or sexual desire, and to treat the crush as if it were the height of human experience would be discriminatory and erroneous. Secondly, it can be painful to experience a crush, a source of stress, or even just a frustrating distraction intruding on your thoughts. However, it's important that we treat the depth of our own emotions and desires with respect and consideration, especially when they are of a kind that has long been stigmatised. The shame that we have been encouraged to feel about crushes hides the fact that we can find ourselves on the other side of a crush knowing more about ourselves than we did before. It is not that those we crush on is instrumentalism in this process. It's that overcoming the shame, respecting ourselves, and finally recognising the worthiness of our own needs.
Practicing your desire only makes you more practiced at what you always wanted.