Pucker up

Edited version published in Frankie 37 (September/October 2010)

‘A good kiss is a mutual kiss,’ says Philip Thiel. ‘A good kiss is shared equally between the two people. You don’t have to debrief to know when you’ve had a perfect kiss based on that criteria, because it’s quite evident.’ And he should know. The Melbourne blogger is kissing someone different every day this year, on the lips – sometimes friends, but more often strangers.

Philip has blogged his year-long projects since 2005, when he wrote a rhyming couplet every day. Since then he has spent a year giving flowers to people, another honouring Catholic saints, and a year exploring Paris by following strangers. Last year was all about lemons, with Philip conjuring up a new lemony activity every day. ‘I got totally sick of lemons,’ he says. ‘By September or October in any one year I’m utterly sick of whatever the thing is, but also stubborn in my endeavour to do a thing a day and not stop. The great freedom that I have in making the rules is matched by a kind of fascist attitude to the rules once they are made.’

His current project is fuelled by ‘a sense that kissing people is good, enjoyable and should be done more often,’ he says. ‘A kiss on the lips can be anything from totally cold and banal, to absolutely sexually satisfying. I’ve experienced a full range of kisses this year, depending on what the person I’m kissing feels like.’ He meets people from online dating sites for kissing rendezvous and asks people in passing on the street. Once he held up a ‘kiss me’ sign in a public place and waited. ‘I was kissed by an extremely sexy Mediterranean man,’ he says. ‘Twice. Without any words being exchanged. Totally hot.’

Not everyone knows that they are participating in an artwork when they kiss Philip, but he says these are the best kinds of kisses. ‘If our relationship consists exclusively of kissing each other, and the kiss is amazing, then we have an amazing relationship – period.’

As a resident of the heart of Melbourne, Philip believes there will be no shortage of people to help him complete the project. Instead, the challenge is psychological. ‘What the project really depends on is my energy and willingness to approach people and ask,’ he says. ‘The days when I don’t feel like kissing are the ones on which I often kiss my friends. So my friends aren’t really getting the hot kisses, they’re getting the tired kisses, or late night, now-or-never kisses.’

Whatever the quality of the kiss, what matters is the story. On the blog he describes several missions out to the suburbs in pursuit of a pash, and the time a kissing partner moved in too early and copped a mouthful of sausage and bread. ‘I’m quite relaxed ever after a shit kiss if there’s something funny about it,’ he says.

For inspiration for his work, Philip looks to other artists with similarly obsessive tendencies. ‘I admire people who pursue a goal rigorously,’ he says. ‘I love artworks that shock you by how long they must have taken. And I love really long plays where you feel that the actors are getting really tired.’

After having so many people participate unknowingly in his projects, Philip hopes he can do the same for another artist. ‘It’s a joke between a few of us that when something really offbeat happens we put it down to a possible creative project of the person who’s behaved in a strange way,’ he says. ‘Maybe they’re doing a year of stealing things? Maybe they’re doing a year of tripping people? I’m going to give them the benefit of the doubt and assume they’re going to blog about it.

‘We see these annual projects across the urban landscape and it’s actually very liberating to think of people as artists by default.’