A silent walk for solidarity
Jenny Case, Liga Zepa, Efrosyni Tsiritaki and Breg Horemans are European art professionals with different disciplinary backgrounds living and working in different European countries: Belgium, UK, Latvia and Greece. They collaborate with the TAAT-collective (Theatre as Architecture, Architecture as Theatre) on different projects to organize encounters between unknown people. Two people meet each other through a spacial experience.
‘Encounter Activism’ (EA) is a collaborative project: they setup silent walks between strangers. These walks are activist acts of togetherness: embodied experiences of occupying public space. A person encounters an unknown “other” through a hyper-attentive walking experience, followed by a staged conversation about the values that connect or separate us: solidarity, xenophobia, identification. This is the first time they use public space as spot where the two strangers meet up. This experience transforms the social distancing, due to the lockdown, into an experience of shareability.
Every agent, in their respective city, contacts 10 selected participants that are then matched based on diversity and geographical nearness. A script is sent by email with a starting point and endpoint. The two participants walk, silently, finding a common rhythm, highly aware of the public space they occupy together and respecting regional distancing measures. “This silent walk might be awkward for the participant at the beginning but afterwards it increases an awareness of their own identity and the identity of the other person. This is a negotiation experience where the participants understand the human solidarity in understanding how everyone depends on the other, the community and ultimately the public space and its complex social layers,” says Breg. A participant in Brussels said the following: “the silent pact between us was a thought provoking way to experience a peaceful occupation of space by action and reflection”.
In participating in the walk, the person shows solidarity to the other person but also to the project. Moreover, they start to build solidarity in small cities. The encounters are also made in poor parts of the city to eliminate prejudice and to valorize them. Every one works in different European cities Brussels, Athens, Riga and Dundee with different local partners. Important is the element of cultural and ethnic diversity in selecting the participants and choosing the specific route are designated area in public space.
After the walk, a scripted conversation takes place and the participants are invited to record or write down their experiences. The feedbacks are then added to the project’s online Archive Of Solidarity, where fragments of these digitalized ‘analogue encounters’ are shown throughout the scope of the project. This is an existing, yet prototyped tool, that will be further developed the coming months. This archive makes the encounters visible on a European scale, empowering past and future participants to occupy a common space of solidarity, both off- and online. Through walking together in silence, a common space for solidarity is built. The main question for the participants to answer is: How does social distancing create a new shared space for real encounters?
This project recognizes the potential of an international solidarity: between them as a team – on one side – within the socio-artistic output – on the other side. At a personal level the team is composed by artists and cultural workers that with this project support each other and collaborate. The local agents have diverse backgrounds in architecture, visual arts, anthropology and expanded scenography.
On a collective level they stress the importance of a network: working together on a shared experience that happens in different countries simultaneously. On a society level they bring different people together in a time when social proximity is under treat. They introduce the simple act of encountering a stranger – a person of a different age, orientation, ethnicity, religion or discipline, that literally lives around the corner. The encounter with your unknown neighbor in the proximity of your own community, directly addresses the unlimited potential of making new social connections in times of social distancing.
Despite courageous attempts of digitizing most cultural programs – mainly by the large cultural institutions – the avalanche of digital possibilities hardly brings us closer to one another. “We believe that physical approximation in the ‘here and now’, a phenomenological a tangible approach to encountering strangers in time and space, is becoming more and more crucial,” they say. The lockdown gives us time to experience a lack of face-to-face contact that leads to re-valuation of the essence of our social existence: sharing physical space, sharing a physical experience as the beginning of solidary relationships.