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The relinquishment of touching

17 December 2020

Marlot Meyer - LIMB-O
It is a Saturday evening in 2020 and you are sitting on your couch at home, watching a film. The protagonist in the film enters a bar and enthusiastically greets his friends with hugs and high fives. The first thing that springs to your mind is: 'hey, no 1.5 m distancing!' and then 'When did I last hang out with my friends in a crowded pub?'

This year more than ever, we are aware of our own body and that of another person in relation to the space we occupy. Social distancing, no spontaneous hugs or dancing and partying in large numbers until the early hours of the morning; this really affects a person. The lack of intimacy and unwillingness to touch anything or anyone has been translated by designers into objects, installations and utensils.

During Dutch Design Week (DDW), ArtEZ presents an overview of The New Intimacy - Bodies, Objects and Spaces, exploring the changing intimate relationships between bodies, objects and spaces. Given the current circumstances by Covid-19, ArtEZ looks within their Class of 2020 at what (physical) distance means for our desirable and necessary personal relationships, both in the private and public environment. They also reflect on ways to deal with loneliness and how to relate to each other and our surroundings both directly and indirectly, in this new situation of social distancing.

Touching as method

Since we are so much more aware of touching people and objects these days, or rather the very lack thereof, isn't it time to adopt tactile sensations in a different way? The amount of time we spend on screens has increased during the pandemic. Incessantly busy with Team or Zoom calls with colleagues, digital pub quizzes or drinks and saying farewell to a loved one via a live stream. An overstimulation of our visual communication, according to Pauline van Dongen, in collaboration with Baltan Studio and Holst Center. At DDW she presents Body Wonders whereby touching is rediscovered as a method and as a new language; our skin as a new connection in a future where the screen loses its power. This experience is facilitated by Smart Clothing. It consists of 14 haptic engines placed over the torso and arms to create a collection of vibrotactile patterns.

Body Wonders by Pauline van Dongen, Baltan Studio and Holst Center

Using hands in public spaces

In our daily lives, we also have to deal with situations in which we would prefer to avoid any kind of physical contact: for hygienic reasons. We often need our hands in public spaces, where we prefer not to use them to prevent infection. For instance, pressing the button on a traffic light. Quite tricky to do this with your elbow. Govert Flint has designed the ideal solution with Lean On Me; a traffic light to lean against with your shoulder instead of pressing a button by hand. During one of their episodes VPRO Mondo focused on Body Wonders and Lean On Me. You can watch the episode here and see both designs in action.

Lean On Me by Govert Flint

Being present in the here and now

Back to our relationship with screens and the changes that we are undergoing on a near global scale. At MU in Eindhoven you can visit The Self Design Academy until 22 November (now online and after 19 November also in person). This is an initiative where 18 artists and designers together with visitors investigate how we can define, understand and design ourselves. The delay and changes that keep popping up since March make people reflect upon themselves. The ever-increasing popularity of the self-help industry is the inspiration for the Self Design Academy. One of the questions the designers ask themselves is whether it is really necessary to constantly improve and (re)design ourselves: and, if so: on whose terms? To what extent are we shaped by the powers around us and how do we (re)gain control?
As part of the (online) exhibition, Marlot Meyer's LIMB-O is a confrontational concept. According to Meyer, we have to be fully present in the here and now to understand and respond to the global issues. But according to her it becomes very difficult at the moment when all we do is sit and our brains have to focus on what's happening on a screen. The interactive media installation LIMB-O visualises the forces and dialogues that take place in our bodies, within our physical and digital environment. A space where our intuition is encouraged to push us towards a wider range of possible experiences. Technology can then offer us a new kind of perception.

LIMB-O by Marlot Meyer
© © Jeroen van der Wielen

Setting boundaries

The way we deal with the space around us in public spaces has always been based on a certain distance from each other. This distance has increased even further and we are more conscious of how close people can get to us. Performance artist Xinming Luo shows with Body Intervention Performance Series how we set boundaries in public spaces, but also how we tolerate quite a lot. The idea behind this series is to use wearable sculptures in order to decrease the psychological boundaries between ourselves and society. Watch the videos and imagine how you would deal with the question Luo raises.

Body Intervention Performance Series by Xinming Luo

Objects After Bodies by Annick van der Waal about how our poor (sitting) posture distorts our body. The event Impossible Bodies is an interactive exhibition about cyborgs, data and AI. Find the answer to the question what kind of cyborg we want to become. At Fontys ArtCoDe, What's a body?, you can watch live streams about what a body is. Kelip - Shrouded in a Cloud of Lights by Stijn Ossevoort of Design United is a bodysuit that serves as a facilitator for more personal space. Excess of Matter by Angeline Behr celebrates the sensory aspects of body fat and with Immeasurable Ranges DAE Graduate Boey Wang stretches the laws of physics and introduces a more elastic approach to our rigid norms.