Mathew Wayne Parkin Can Fit A Fist in Their Mouth

An exhibition of the artist’s new work at Cubitt in London raises ethical questions about documenting intimate moments and memories

BY Sam Moore in Exhibition Reviews | 07 MAY 24

There’s an intimacy to the idea of an archive – collections of film, papers, ephemera and images amassed over time, consolidating memories into something corporeal. In their solo show at Cubitt, ‘I can fit a fist in my mouth’, Mathew Wayne Parkin explores close connections within their filmic archives, aligning footage of analogous moments that might be too intimate or too raw to be immortalized openly and individually.

Mathew Wayne Parkin, I can fit a fist in my mouth, 2024, museum barriers, cable wire, locks and keyrings. Courtesy: the artist; photograph: BJ Deakin

Among the show’s sculptures (all works titled and dated I can fit a fist in my mouth, 2024) is a row of padlocks and keyrings suspended along a low wire between museum barriers. This image recalls the endless love locks that once adorned Paris’s Pont des Arts bridge. Beyond this romantic interpretation, however, Parkin’s collection also gestures towards BDSM practices, suggesting notions of being bound. Indeed, opposite the padlocks, and incredibly easy to miss, is a small, dangling piercing ring.

The central film also carries a sexual connotation, containing intermittent footage of the eponymous act rendered in a blurry and imperfect way. The imagery is pixelated and, at times, colour inverted, evoking the uncertainty of memory recollection. It might seem like this show is only focused on eroticism, since the film also includes descriptions of sex settings and acts – dildos, harnesses, etc. However, it is compelling how Parkin adds complexity to these charged memories of desire and confronts the ethical implications of documenting them.

Mathew Wayne Parkin, I can fit a fist in my mouth, 2024, digital video, 20:00 and LED lights. Courtesy: the artist and Cubitt Gallery; photograph: Kadeem Oak

There’s a schism at the film’s heart between the seen and the unseen. Two versions play in the space: one with captions, the other audio-described. In the latter, a voice narrates anything represented on screen. Anything recollected but not depicted is voiced by one of a group of collaborators (each of whom is intimate with Parkin in some way), which appears in both versions. In its opening moments, the audio-described film is explicit about this, with the voice-over telling the audience those other collaborators ‘describe footage not shown on screen’. By leaving the memories of others heard but unseen, Parkin’s film explores how consent and permission enter the ways in which we preserve our intimate memories, even the ways we might make art from them.

Mathew Wayne Parkin, I can fit a fist in my mouth, 2024, installation view. Courtesy: the artist and Cubitt Gallery; photograph: Kadeem Oak

In one scene, striking in its simplicity, Parkin rewatches footage they shot of someone – a lover, presumably – while sleeping. Later in the film, Parkin and the person in question discuss the scene, with the artist confessing: ‘I didn’t know how you’d feel about it.’ Though the subject sounds slightly affronted, they agree to the artist including the footage, foregrounding the issue of consent. In another scene, Parkin points their camera at the person partially clothed, who asks: ‘You filming already?’ In response, the artist tells them they’ll stop, and the camera goes dark. There’s something almost shocking about how quickly Parkin is willing to cut to black and sever the relationship between story and storyteller, storyteller and audience.

Mathew Wayne Parkin, I can fit a fist in my mouth, 2024, digital video, 20:00 and LED lights. Courtesy: the artist and Cubitt Gallery; photograph: Kadeem Oak

There could be an impulse to consider the editing in Parkin’s film as elusive or self-censoring. However, I believe its erratic nature reveals something about intimacy, and how the stories we tell never only belong to us. I can fit a fist in my mouth is a fluid film, constantly in conversation with its narrators and itself, willing to cut to black at the behest of its subjects, as if they were uttering a safe word. It’s an approach that gives Parkin’s explorations of memory the clarity that the visuals often knowingly refuse. Parkin seems to understand that our intimate memories and personal archives never truly belong to only one person.

Mathew Wayne Parkin's ‘I can fit a fist in my mouth’ is on view at Cubitt, London until 18 May

Main image: Mathew Wayne Parkin, I can fit a fist in my mouth (detail), 2024, drawing in ballpoint on lined paper. Courtesy: the artist and Cubitt Gallery; photograph: Kadeem Oak

Sam Moore is a writer and editor. They are one of the co-curators of TISSUE, a trans reading series based in London.