n°19/ This is not a Kiss

May 2012

by Nathalie Azoulai

What’s a kiss? The usual definition is the coming together of two friendly mouths, such as Leonid Brezhnev and Erich Honecker locking lips in 1979. The less usual definition is what happens when advertising gets involved and takes lips that hate each other or are banned from coming together. It can be seen in Benetton’s most recent campaign, “Unhate,” one clearly inspired by the work Oliviero Toscani – that rhetorician of images – did for the company in the 1990s. When, in 1992, he shot of a nun kissing a priest, he showed he had understood that a kiss was a visual oxymoron with an instant effect. Like all great visionaries, Toscani led the way and the “Unhate” campaign runs with his ideas to invent the real historical kiss, the one that doesn’t yet exist. So let’s push it even further with an image Pierre and Gilles could have shot that seems to say that a kiss speaks less about the intimacy of those locking lips, and more about those who don’t approve of its happening. Here the kiss functions as a whisper of unity and complicity. Magritte would have agreed: “This is not a kiss.”

Pierre et Gilles

Olivero Toscani for Benetton