The Reactions of Strangers
This is the second of three pieces that reveals the immediate reactions of a number of people who participated in Strangers & Others by H2Dance. It asked people to look, touch, assume and judge whilst reflecting upon themes of socialization, tolerance and autonomy.
If you’re curious and wanted to read some of the expectations that people had before watching the work then you can do so here. There will be another piece of writing which captures the responses that people had two weeks after the performance.
Warning if you’ve not yet experienced Strangers & Others — spoilers ahead.
For those readers who have arrived at this first, I felt that it’s important to document Strangers & Others from alternative perspectives and different people. History is often told from a single view point and is often filtered by the person who has commissioned it.
Can you describe what has just happened?
I’d like to start briefly from the beginning. I had no expectations, no knowledge. We entered an empty stage full of smoke and throughout we were told to variously approach people that we judged to be homophobic…gay…antisocial perhaps. Various judgments had to be made and we had to point at people, hug people, touch people in places where we would never normally do out in the public. It does make you more aware of others and less fixated on barriers. You get to know people quite well, you can smile and laugh at each other. We paraded round the whole time, bout an hour and a bit, and variously repeated actions and by and large obeyed what we were told to do, forming diagonals, forming groups, deciding on dominant partners etc. It was good fun.
You said obeyed in the most part. Were there some people who didn’t obey?
Me. I couldn’t lie on the floor, that’s a physical problem. No I think people did generally obey and we had such a laugh.
What was the voice like?
Disengaged, objective, but not scary, pleasant…pleasant just giving objective instructions what to do.
What sort of emotions and responses do have to that?
I had a bit of fear to start with, but then just going along with it, not a problem. But I can see it would be a problem if you weren’t used to people and hadn’t done Tai Chi and stuff like that. Touching people, a lot of people haven’t done that. Being lead round with eyes closed (which I didn’t do all the time), those things. It was fine.
Was there an element of trust needed?
Definitely — if you had your eyes closed all the time the trust was on the other person. Trust is very important.
What was the thing which made you feel most comfortable?
Holding hands, I think, with various people, yes cause that’s not based on any zones that one wouldn’t normally touch. Hands are fine.
What was the thing which made you feel most uncomfortable?
Patting somebody else’s bum. One wouldn’t normally do that except in a familiar context; it didn’t matter but those of us who had to do it did it very quickly.
Didn’t everybody have to do it?
I don’t know because we all had different instructions I think on our earphones.
Did you feel like you were missing out on some things?
I don’t think so. But they weren’t all synchronised. They weren’t all on simultaneous, people seemed to be doing things we weren’t told to do on our wavelength.
What’s the thing which sticks in your memory?
I’m gonna say the fun of it, the laughter, the breaking down of barriers. Obviously it’s quite deliberately engineered to do that. You get to know people pretty well, because you’re touching them and you’re smiling at them. I think the closeness and the friendship of a kind that builds up.
Did you feel manipulated at all?
Not at all. It was fun. We were just given instructions and we did it. Not manipulation no. We agreed to take part and you take what comes at you (within reason). There was nothing outside what’s acceptable.
What are you going to get out of it?
A relaxed attitude (which I already have) but need, breaking down barriers between people, and a laugh and a memory because I know some of these people and one I pointed out as a racist homophobe who isn’t. Great fun, great fun. You know, poor Glen. It was really good.
Is there anything else you’d like to share?
I found it quite tiring. I’m old — I’m 71. So I’m old and I’m tired. I was glad when it sort of came to an end. But I think it was very interesting. I don’t know who put it together, but it was very well put together…plumbed a lot of depths. Racism, homophobia, all kinds of things. There were no…err…we were all white people and you were asked to make a difference and people who were racists we had to pretend were racists. It was interesting. I don’t want to do it again now but it was harmless fun and the people coming in at 8pm it will be fun for them too. They don’t know what they’re walking into.
Can you talk a little bit about the difference between your expectation and what has happened?
Expectations — I thought we’d be watching dancers dancing and I didn’t know how we’d be asked to interact with them. In fact it was total interaction from us to the speaker; I did think there would be a choreographed set there, but there wasn’t, it was all us. Open minded about it so it didn’t matter what we were asked to do, we were among friends. Nothing to worry about. But I could see that people could feel uncomfortable particularly if they’ve not done tactile things.
Was the touch quite important?
Yes. Yes I think it was. It’s reassuring as well as being kind of warm and human; yes it’s very important. Without the touch it would just have been wandering round; it had to be there, it’s part and parcel of it. Staring into peoples eyes, that’s a bit difficult cause you want to laugh.
What made you laugh most?
Staring into eyes, accusing Glen of being a racist homophobic nasty kind of person, you know you have to point at the person. It’s completely harmless, great fun. Lots of things, we smiled at each other and we found certain things amusing. We didn’t know what to expect. Touch bits, touch the head, touch the cheek, touch the bum, well you know I think some people had to touch knees — well I didn’t get to that one — but it was very relaxing actually.
Can you tell me about what has just happened?
OK. So…a group of us were put in a room and all with a different set of headphones that’s wired to a different speaker and given directions that mainly involve judging people, making your decisions and yeah.
What is the thing which sticks in your head?
How I’ve come across to others. Because of how I’ve judged them.
How do you think you have come across?
I feel. I feel that, I’ve brought a presence, that makes them have a second judgement about me.
In terms of what you expected to happen and what has happened — what has been the difference?
I expected to feel a lot more on edge and exposed. But I actually felt really comfortable and relaxed and free within the space.
Can you talk about the voice?
It was very slow but you knew when to expect it, which allowed you to look around the room and see what everyone else was doing although you couldn’t hear what their voice was saying, you could interpret what was going on in the space and how you could react to that.
What was your relationship to other people?
I felt really connected to them. I felt like I got a bit of everyone in the room, even the people that held back. I still feel some sort of connection with them.
What are you going to take away from this?
I’m gonna take away actually something that’s gonna help me with my political cabaret; it’s the fact that I had to judge people based on how they looked and because of that you’re a bit like oh shit should I really be saying that, should I really be pointing at this person. When actually I can use that in my performance, cause it’s like you’re meant to make the audience ooh gosh are we really talking about something like racists or something, when you’re not as such.
How would you describe it to someone who has not experienced it?
The people you feel the most connected to are the ones that distance themselves from you. The people you seem to show a connection to, you seem to learn how the way they act or react about things when actually they don’t feel that with you, they feel that with someone else. Then when you maybe approach them again you don’t have that connection, and you are like — oh.
Who did you feel a connection with both ways?
I did feel that at one point. Me and this guy were quite connected and we seem to flow off each other a bit but as it went on, I felt like it had been lost and unrecognised and it’s like it never happened. Maybe we never had that connection after all.
What is the worst thing about it?
Not knowing why someone is pointing at you and why they’re not pointing at you. There was a point when I was standing in the line and everyone was getting pointed at and everyone had a partner but I didn’t and I thought if they’ve been asked a question saying who looks the best and I haven’t been chosen I thought I bet I look bloody stupid. But on the other hand it could have been who’s been jailed? So in that case I’m fine.
Did it play on your fears of missing out?
Definitely, literally every time I wasn’t chosen I was like is there something with my nose, am I ugly or what have I done. No one would stand next to me at one point. There was one point where we had to partner up and go round the space and I was left on my own for the whole thing. So I just watched everyone else.
What was the best thing?
Mainly at start when you started touching people. I’m not saying I enjoy touching people in places. It was a good way, there were so many people that were restricted and to grab their hand and put it on someone else’s arm or something, you gained that connection in the circle. Someone had to put their hand on my bum. Just doing that you could see them going from being quite tense to a bit more like, this is alright. Maybe I’ve just got a good bum.
Can you tell me what has just happened?
I was given some headphones. I went into a space and I did what I was told
What was that like as a feeling?
As a naturally submissive individual, it came quite naturally. As someone who tends to lean towards taking part in this sort of thing, generally it didn’t feel beyond. There were certain instructions that verged on uncomfortable however I felt once I worked out that differing instructions were being given and different contexts could be taken within the assessment I thought oh OK that’s the point of it. Yet a friend of mine was still pointing me out as a racist. So there we are. I’ll have a word with him later.
What were the things that made you feel uncomfortable?
It was definitely towards the latter part of it when…it wasn’t so much the people pointing at me, it was having to point at people. I really don’t try and judge people on their appearances and that is exactly the point of the piece I realise. The fact that I felt uncomfortable doing that confirms that I’m probably right in feeling how I was initially feeling.
What were expectations beforehand?
I had no expectations. I deliberately came into this thing, into these Wednesday nights not knowing anything. I knew that it was a limited audience so I knew I would have to book it in advance but apart from that I knew nothing.
How does this compare to the other Wednesday nights?
This doesn’t really. Usually you sit down and you watch a thing happen. Maybe there’s been one or two where the audience have been in the space with the performers; I was gonna say with the performers, but actually the performers in the traditional sense were the people on stage — so that falls apart a little bit. Couple of incidents where audiences have been mobile and there’s been incidents where there’s been participation, but I don’t think there’s ever been an occasion where the whole show has been mass participation. As far as I can remember.
What do you think about that as a device?
I’m little annoyed because actually I had a very similar idea a few years ago and I think oh bollocks that’s that one out the window isn’t it. There we are. I like it enough to have tried to do it. I think it’s grand, but then I’m also aware other people find that stuff very uncomfortable. I’m aware of a couple of people who chose not to come tonight because it was participatory; but that’s something I tend to thrive on. Being part of the thing. I try to get in on things as much as I can and you know with certain boundaries not withstanding I try to embrace it as much as I can.
What of this will stay with you?
Nothing immediately, that’s not how my mind works. I like to ruminate on things for a bit and let things settle for a bit before I reach those sorts of conclusions to be honest. So I can’t really answer that I’m afraid.
Persons 4, 5 and 6
Can you describe in one line what you’ve just experienced?
A participatory dance performance prompted by commands through headphones.
Something quite uncomfortable at times.
A participatory performance with strangers that ended up feeling like friends or someone you knew by the end.
What is the thing that sticks with you the most?
For me it’s about touching strangers. There’s something about physically touching people you don’t know and by the end of it feeling comfortable with that, in a way.
How in some instances the certain directions you’re absolutely fine with and others you literally don’t want to take part because you feel so uncomfortable; it makes you very aware of things you won’t discuss or have conversations with others. Especially when it’s strangers as well.
There were lots of things like there were so many things that happened that it’s hard to pick. Definitely realising how uncomfortable you feel in situations as well just like looking at someone in the eye and realising how little you do that normally and how that makes you feel and that person you’re looking at feel.
You had some exposure to Strangers & Others in an earlier stage of its development. What has shifted for you seeing the final work?
I think when H2Dance were in residence with us I felt we built a relationship with some of the people who took part in the performance, so it felt less like strangers. While this time there were definitely people in the room that we didn’t know and so I felt some of the performance probably was more effective this time for me personally. Because I definitely had more of the experience they might have wanted to convey.
Last time it was much more the case of free movement, then holding a movement, then using that and staging it, almost like it was very choreographed in terms of you became much more of a dancer whereas I think this one was much more directional. It was probably simpler for an audience. We went through a series over three weeks doing different things and I think therefore it was probably they were able to choreograph with us and get us to understand that. This time because you’ve got a very limited time I think it was probably simplified and it worked very well. We did a lot of things to music last time, whereas this was much more directed. In some respects I thought it was more serious but then I was giggling as well.
I think some of the questions were more provocative this time. Unless they weren’t and it’s just the way I feel because I am with other people I don’t know.
Previously I think we did a lot more…you were very aware that you were being choreographed and so it was a lot of sort of making interesting shapes or structures or lifting people off the ground, you know all of that sort of stuff. Whereas this seemed much more about interrogating your personal response to questions about, you know and actually getting you to reveal stuff or make assumptions about other people.
It became more about the title I suppose to some degree.
What was your relationship to the voice?
That’s hard again because we’ve met the artists before but after the first five minutes it was just a voice just telling me what to do. I felt like there wasn’t a relationship there anyway. It was really noticeable when you came in the room that Heidi and Hanna were sat in the corners and they do become visible at points because it was a small audience, you feel like maybe a larger participation maybe they might become less obvious.
It goes back to when we did it before. Either Hanna or Heidi when they were speaking they were outside of the room so you didn’t see them. They were kind of through a half see through curtain and therefore you weren’t able to see; it’s quite interesting having them in the room so they were visible but not visible — it was a really well done situation. You knew they were there — I suppose if we didn’t know anything about it you’d be quite intrigued by what they are up to, but you quite soon forgot that.
I think it’s amazing how you instantly give over your power. Straight away. You walk in the room and you literally wait to be told what to do. Those moments when there’s quite a long pause you literally don’t do anything. You just wait rather than having that agency to be able to go well I’ll just go and sit down for a bit or walk around or anything. You’re just waiting. So that weird Big Brother type thing where you’ve just got this person talking in your ear telling you what to do is instant and it feels that’s the interesting bit about it when…cause I was saying that no-one seemed to really break the rules but actually I think it’s such an authoritative voice you don’t feel that you can.
There’s definitely one bit when I was in the corner and whoever I was meant to be staring at the chin of had walked of and I was just staring in the corner and you were all doing something else behind and I thought I don’t know whether I should just still stand here and I went to move one way and I thought oh no, I better go back. I thought, what am I doing? This is ridiculous, I’m just completely obeying because that environment is not something I’m familiar with.
Also I think it’s part of the group that you’ve suddenly bonded with and you don’t wanna…you wanna feel like belonging and breaking the rules you would feel quite uncomfortable because you are doing something that no one else is doing and you don’t know where you sit.
To some extent you do just want to rebel half way through just to see what happens.
I think there were small rebellions maybe when you didn’t answer the question but not being really rebellious.
You desperately want to giggle at times but you spend your entire time trying not to giggle because it feels like you’re not meant to
What made you giggle?
Just eye contact. It’s just nervousness that brings it out. Then sniffing a bottom or stroking their bum — it’s the kind of uncomfortableness that gives you a nervousness giggle but then you feel like you should stop giggling.
But then it’s nice when you have that giggle and the other person laughs as well who you don’t know and then you like feel the same and it’s like the emotion. I think their voice really works with having the headphones outside then going in, it prepares you. It was really important.
Is there a final thing that you’d like to share that you’ve not spoken about?
I’m surprised that when I left the feelings that I had. Because there definitely points when I felt uncomfortable in there…but there was obviously lovely moments as well and laughter. But coming out it was really nice having that conversation afterwards with everybody else that was there. I think I would have felt really odd if I’d just gone and I’d had this encounter with these people and never actually spoke to them. I know that’s a bit of an after performance element but it felt quite important actually and I didn’t expect to feel so, have such a nice feeling.
If you go to see a performance and you are just in the audience you would watch that and maybe go away if you’re on your own, maybe you wouldn’t talk to anybody or you talk just to the person you’re with, but you wouldn’t talk to the rest of the audience. Here you have have a very strong urgence to talk to everybody and just laugh off the really awkward bits and have fun about the bits that were kind of funny — but you do want to have that time just to chat to people.
For me it was the uncomfortableness and realising what you are uncomfortable with and what your not. It’s not obvious things either.
For me it was something to do with our default position of our relationship to authority and so actually you find you are being really honest and there’s no reason to disclose anything actually. You could lie through the whole thing or you could do the opposite of what they’re telling you and yet just very simple instructions and simple questions you find yourself doing it. It’s like our default position and response to authority is just to tell the truth and do what your told and that’s slightly worrying.
Person 6 & 7
Can you describe what you’ve just encountered?
Instructions to test people’s obedience levels.
Yes — I think that’s fair. It was a set of instructions; some simple and physical and spatial and others in terms of opinion, I suppose, and perspective.
What is the thing that is at the front of your head right now?
I feel angry at people because they didn’t think for themselves and they just followed the tasks even when the tasks were like ridiculous. No-one didn’t do it, apart from me. I sat out. Everyone just did it and I was like, why are you doing this? Why will nobody think about why you’re doing this? You’ve bought a ticket to a show and that doesn’t mean you have to do every single thing — especially when at the start it says it’s an invitation to do something. It fucking pissed me off.
Other people pissed you off?
What did you choose not to do?
Just, erm, some of the tasks that I felt went completely too far.
What is the thing that is at the front of your head right now?
I think the experience of touching strangers and actually scent and smell. I think it’s something you’re not often conscious of and the invitation to smell someone is really interesting and even the act of being smelt by another person, being visibly smelt was really interesting. I think also I suppose the awkwardness of being asked to often point at someone or indicate someone else in the room that you felt was something potentially negative and insulting to them and the sort of insecurity with regards to that and kind of thinking I hope that they can’t hear my instructions because I don’t want to seem like a terrible person to a stranger. Smell is at the front of my head.
Can you remember what that smell?
It was a very sweaty man. I think he had had a very hard day, but like it was familiar and intoxicating at the same time. That was the one smell that stayed with me and whenever I was asked to keep my proximity towards someone who smelt…maybe because it was the strongest smell. There were some very sweet smelling ladies and some people with unfamiliar but undefinable scent but, like, yeah. That was a big strong thing and it’s not something you’re often conscious of.
Your anger, can you chart it on a graph?
I feel like it was, I was fairly comfortable/complacent up until about, must have been 40 minutes in and then I started getting more push back and then feeling angry to the point of not participating and just watching and then actively refusing people when they would try and involve me. That was kind of the peak, which was maybe about 50 minutes in and then it kind of went down again and then towards the end I was calmer but not like the state when I entered.
When you rejected people, what was their reaction?
They would try again, whether that was to move me physically or get me to be involved; it was all physical to start of and so they would try again and then usually I would make eye contact with them and shake my head in a way that was clear. Don’t do that. Then they would go away.
Is part of your anger directed at the work for asking you to do that?
No, I don’t think so. Because the questions were interesting and provocative. I just wish more people would have gone, no — that’s ridiculous, like they would in real life. There seemed to be this thing of — oh I’m on a stage wearing headphones and I can do things that I can’t do in real life. Which I think is kind of bullshit, all because you’re in a different room — but they have this license to do things that you don’t necessarily…
I would counsel that with you feel like you’re in a suspended reality in way. You are in a another space with a different set of rules and that’s the nature of theatre.
I know but you don’t lose your brain. You still have agency.
That’s true, that’s true — absolutely. It’s funny that within the frame of that not participating is seen as something else. Like when you take a grumpy dad to the pantomime and he doesn’t…there’s something in that. So it’s like, do you keep your agency from the outside world or do you suspend that and go with something because that’s what you’ve paid for. I don’t know. I don’t know. I completely understand your perspective.
I did join in briefly with the intention of disrupting because I just went against what they said and just placed myself in ridiculous places. But very briefly because then I felt like that was being selfish in terms of other people’s experience. I think that’s what actually brought me back in, is that I wanted to make sure other people got what they needed out of it because there were strange numbers and you could see somebody maybe got left behind at points.
My hands smell of other people. I think I should say that.
Can you talk about the idea of consent? Did the piece raise any thoughts around this?
Some leaps in there in terms of, some things didn’t affect people physically and then some instructions/commands/requests/suggestions/invitations or however you want to frame it — they’re all different — felt like a sudden leap. I think touching someone’s chest, stroking someone’s bum — they were a little unexpected, but I think because of the nature of embarrassed laughing that sort of diffuses some of that awkwardness. There is another question of consent and I think being a dancer and being a little more aware of my body and also teaching and things like safe touch I went to touch someone’s chest and I have a female person in front of me, I know where to touch so I know it’s not inappropriate. But the fact that there’s no verbal consent…I suppose people can walk away if they want to but then there is a question that if you are in this space where there are rules, can you really walk away if you want to? Do you feel comfortable being touched? That’s tricky because I suppose you feel like you’re in the system and you can’t walk away and you couldn’t kind of say no and you couldn’t stop it unless you are bold and yet there’s no way to agree or disagree — if that makes sense?
I think it places a lot of emphasis on eye contact — that’s what I would look for — especially with the more physical stuff. In terms of like a weird unsigned contract, is this OK while it’s happening?
I feel like there’s an approach that might be…I think the first time I was invited to touch someone, it was on a shoulder. I was very clear that I raised my hand to their eye level so they saw my hand and did it slowly so they could watch where it was going. That was a very conscious choice of I’m about to touch someone and I need to make sure that they’ve seen that’s what’s about to happen, because I could just go and essentially grab and that would be a shock.
I did witness other people saying/mouthing — don’t touch me — and refusing. So I did feel there was a sense of personal agency.
What was your relationship to the voice?
That they were there was a little odd actually. Because they were speaking to me/us but not to us.They were just there, which I thought was a little strange. I was trying to figure out…sometimes I would watch and see if I could get a bit of eye contact and a reaction but they were very intent on their task. It wasn’t a distracting presence, it was just something I was very conscious of.
I just started to reject them completely. In my head I was really hoping that on some of the more provocative questions there would just be a sea of people lying down on the floor in a collective protest; that would be great. Because I felt like this was some kind of bodyless control figure who, you know, could have been Theresa May or a larger authoritarian person. So it just became this thing of Fuck You. I felt a kinship with the bodies in the space, apart from the two bodies sat at the microphones because they were actively giving orders.
I would kind of like to have not seen them, in a way. Some kind of mystery thing. I enjoyed the flatness — it was a relatively emotionless delivery even when there were moments when I saw them smiling at us. Like they didn’t get excited by what they were asking us to do. Audibly. So you never felt like there was any making fun of you…it was quite neutral. There was a neutrality in their tone, which maybe made it feel authoritative.
What was the worst thing about it?
For me, I’ve seen H2’s work before. I am aware of their interest in control of others and the mass and authority, so I wasn’t surprised by what I experienced. I have a question about who is it for and another one about whether or not it would be interesting to watch that happening. Whether within the system of the game we’re playing it was possible to see enough to feel like you were seeing a show. You’re definitely experiencing something, but I wondered about what it would be like to be a watcher and an observer. I enjoyed the experience and doing things that I wouldn’t usually do and I enjoyed a shared experience with lots of people. I enjoyed little moments of connection, but then I was wondering who is it for, what is it for, who is watching, why are they watching because it felt like the choreographer’s in the space (the owner’s of the voices) weren’t necessarily watching. I know if a tree falls in forest and no one is around to see it does it still fall? But I kinda was feeling like this is a really interesting audienceless performance. I don’t know if this is the worst thing, but it was something I was feeling and wanted to unpick.
The worst thing was watching people eagerly pointing at each other. When I think potentially the pointing had real possibility of causing offence or hurt or pain or any of those things. How quickly people were happy to do it and what generally this revealed about people.
Do you think it brought out the worst in people?
Yes. I think it was this thing of blind obedience and lack of conscious thought outside of a construct…or about a construct. Like, urgh, god, that’s where we are, like sheep…collective sheep.
Can I flag up an unknown? I feel like I was quite aware that there were two thirds of the audience that knew each other cause they were a student group and I think that was quite interesting because they were more likely to laugh and laugh at each other. So there’s a shift of balance in the piece and it becomes slightly unbalanced cause to reference the title very few people were strangers or others to each other. For us that weren’t in that group we felt slightly othered by that — which was really interesting.
I think some of the questions didn’t have any importance or I kind of question the binary that was presented and the relevance of that. I think that it was part of that that I was like…I get why you use that construct because it is so widely held, but it doesn’t feel necessarily relevant to me as a participant so that made it really easy to go — nope. Disengage. I don’t buy into that system of man/woman or masculine/feminine — that horseshit.
But we’re asked to in society an awful lot and some of them were relatively subjective which is quite interesting…like would you see yourself as honest and that’s interesting to see where you place yourself. Even the ones that were so ambiguous that when you asked to arrange yourself into three groups then you couldn’t quite tell which group you were in or who labelled themselves…it demonstrates what you said, sometimes binary is useless and sometimes it goes slightly to pot. Maybe in terms of the body can…like voting with your feet can only say so much. To unpick that you would need to speak.
Anything you’ve not said that you’d like to say?
There were points when I kept thinking oh this room feels like democracy. In which case, one good thing about it is that everyone is participating, because people normally don’t. It’s just then, in my opinion, it became a failing of democracy.
At the risk of being reductive I’m trying to figure out if I had a nice time and I think I did. But I can’t quite define why I had a nice time.
I’m glad I saw it and I’m glad I had a fairly dramatic response to it. Because that’s better than feeling nothing. I’ll definitely think about it longer and think about it when making work.
Can you tell me what you’ve just experienced?
I feel like it was a group bonding session without actually talking to any of your group. I feel like it was almost like they divided you into groups that was sort of against each other but then made them…I don’t know what you’d call it like…you interact with each other even though they were sort of like against each other in the first question, to the second question. Strange, I don’t know. It’s weird and hard to explain really.
What were some of the feelings you felt?
I felt some of the questions were probably racist in a way but then on the flip side they sort of turned it round in a different question or a different answer sort of thing to make you respond and think it wasn’t a racist question; it was more of a question to bring people together than divide them. I feel like the questions about the money, divide into the wealthy and the poor was very, I don’t know, I feel like there was a lot of trick questions, to make you…because you are not talking to each other you are just going off what people look like it’s sort of hard to know what group they think they’re in. They could think they are in one group, but really they are not in the group you’re thinking.
Did you feel uncomfortable at any time?
I felt like there was points like it made you stare into someones eyes for a ridiculous amount of time sort of thing. But after you sort of felt like if you needed to go up to someone in a certain act, then you could go up to them because of the fact that you’ve sat there and stared into their eyes for five minutes, it feels less awkward to go up to them than anyone else. I made a relationship with them without even talking to them or knowing their name or anything like that. I think it genuinely could be a bonding thing that a load of strangers that have never met and had to bond together; it would be a perfect thing to be doing without talking to each other.
What were some of things being said to you?
I think the strangest thing was not knowing if the other person has been told the same thing as what you’ve been asked to do. I felt like one question was point to the racist in the room and I got a lot of points. I don’t know why. I don’t know if they got asked point to the racist or point to the tallest person in the room.
What is the part that you think you’ll remember most?
Being carried by two small women. I don’t why or what they were told to do but I had three women come up to me and they must have got told to carry me somewhere else. Two of them picked me up round my legs and off the ground and took me across the other side of the room. I didn’t know they were going to pick me up, they was going down to my legs, but I wasn’t sure what they were trying to do until they were trying to pick me up so obviously I cooperated with them to do it. It’s weird when you don’t know what they are trying to do to you or don’t know what they’ve been asked.
What were some of things that you had to do to other people?
Smell people’s necks, smell people’s hands, rubbing people’s bums and stuff like that. Felt like it was covering all genres of sexuality, racism and was a wide spectrum of things that are happening nowadays really I would say. There was a question where it was split into three groups: male, female and other. Obviously there was only one girl that went into other and then it was like look at the other group, so everyone’s looking at her sort of thing, but then it’s like go hug the person in the other group, so everyone’s like piling over to one person to hug one person — so making that person feel awkward but then straight after making them feel loved by everyone in the room.
How would describe what has just happened in one sentence?
Think you’d have to be there to know the feeling what it is. I’d say socialising with totally random people that you would never do anything with, socialise with them and it almost forces you to do it to feel part of the group. If you don’t do it you’re an outcast almost, it’s a weird one. It’s easy to get stuck in there and do it with the group than sit outside and not do it.
Do you feel like you made bonds in the group?
Definitely, yeah. The first lady I had to stand opposite her and stare into her eyes for five minutes, then stare at her nose; then I feel like if ever I needed someone to go back up to take a hand and walk them to different places — it felt quite easy to get her to take her to a different place. But then the way it worked out was that you did that a lot with other people as well so throughout you become close with a few people rather than just the one person.
Before you went you didn’t know what to expect, how do you feel now at the end?
I feel like I could talk to any of the group that I’ve been in there with and probably find out a bit more about them. Before it I wouldn’t have gone up to any of them and that’s about how it made me feel. That’s about it.
Can you describe what you’ve just experienced?
Not easily. It was really uncomfortable, but at the same time really — it’s hard to describe it — really interesting, really challenging in terms of choices obviously. I’m really struggling to describe it.
What made you uncomfortable?
It was intense. Intense is the word. Uncomfortable just in terms of…well I guess you’re making a judgement straight away or you’re trying to, so you’re trying to participate but at the same time some of the questions are so uncomfortable you don’t feel like can point at someone in the room who fits what the question was. You want to participate and not sit on the fence but at the same time some of them you just can’t answer.
Did you abstain?
I did a couple. Yeah. Yeah. I did on the racist one and the homophobic one. I couldn’t honestly look at someone and say that person is racist or homophobic. They were probably the two that I abstained from.
What is the strongest feeling that has stayed with you?
Breaking down barriers actually. In terms of what I’m taking away from it is the first thing I thought was — apart from one person I didn’t really know anyone else. It’s a complete group of strangers and yet you can’t help but feel a little bit closer and quite open. Before I went in I was sat on the bench and the other people were partaking in conversations and when I came out I feel like I can have a conversation with someone I sniffed, looked at or touched and I didn’t even know their names. It was really opening I think; it’s breaking down barriers in a group .
How would you describe it to someone who wasn’t here?
Intense. Fascinating. Really warm. Uncomfortable. Definitely uncomfortable in moments. At the same time a little bit…I don’t think it’s what they’re after...but comedy. Maybe that’s just me, I guess you could take a very dark thing from that but I found it…there were some generally funny moments in terms of watching people interact with each other, seeing discomforts. Says more about me.
What was your relationship to the voice?
It’s subservient. You find yourself wanting to intently listen and hear every single word said to you. You can act in line with what has been said…I found that actually in terms of the voice, I was waiting for it a lot of the time and really intently listening.
You said you abstained a couple of times but did everything else that was asked of you?
I think there was only two occasions when I abstained in terms of identifying someone who fit category x. The other thing in terms of relationship with the voice you get to a point where there’s a bit of disdain — or I did — just because when the uncomfortable questions were there you are almost like…they’re going to ask me to do something weird or uncomfortable next…but at the same and also because I’ve never done anything like this before it’s quite exciting. The mixed emotion when you’re waiting for the voice and anticipation at the same time; alittle bit of anxiety as to what’s going to be asked of you.
Can you talk about your expectations and have they altered?
I feel like the first half was lighter than I expected it to be. More light-hearted and less intense. The second half felt more in line with what I was expecting with the quite tough questions and some tough judgements to make. The first half was maybe the more comic side of it; I didn’t expect it to feel quite so..again too harsh. The second half felt darker than I expected in terms of making a choice, but almost feeling quite bad about it. I found myself more…I found it harder to make choices than I thought I was going to but I also would say I found myself getting more involved and making a personal choice than I thought I would. I thought I might either exclude myself from some or follow a group and put myself somewhere; what I was expecting was almost a list of questions and then put yourself in category a, b or c depending on your answer which is very different from what it ended up being. I was a bit worried that I would go into it just following a group, but I found myself more confident to just make my own choice. I guess part of that comes from…what I didn’t realise was that everyone was getting different instructions and that was really obvious so I found that easier.
Is there anything else you’d like to share about the experience?
I’m actually really glad I did it. I knew I would be…I really wanted to do it. It’s not something I’ve done before, anything like this. It’s incredibly interesting and again really, really good fun. In terms of the emotions and the roller-coaster you go through that’s a good thing to do; I didn’t expect to get so involved and I didn’t expect it to be quite so intense. But in that respect it was brilliant.
Person 10, 11 & 12
Can you describe what has just happened?
No. No. Because it is so complex and there’s so many facets to it but a) I need some thinking time and b) even if I did it’s so experiential it’s really hard to find words to describe it. It was a group activity and it was interesting. It was about people you knew beforehand or didn’t know and assumptions you made about people. Particularly the people with learning difficulties about how to manage that and then you question yourself should you be having two standards or not and on the other hand you have to be sensitive. When it came to the touch thing…I was saying earlier…a kind of desensitisation programme where I ended up stroking a woman’s bottom and her thigh and only cause I know that woman well. I don’t think I’d have done that to anybody else in that group. It wasn’t that I picked her for that activity that somehow came about; then you realise that people managing it were sending different messages to different people and so you shouldn’t assume that other people were reacting to the same thing you were reacting to. It all got very, very complex. There were facial expressions, some people seemed to remained stone faced throughout and I thought have they been instructed to do that or is that their normal way. I was quite conscious that I kept a smile on my face for the whole thing; certainly at the beginning I was very conscious to keep my body posture open and then there were some questions that I thought were divisive. After the first few I thought I’m not gonna…I’m gonna opt out of these which we were allowed to do — they made it quite clear. Also for me it was an interesting experience working through an interpreter because again that was different to everyone else.
How did that work?
Brilliantly. Excellent interpreters. Very sensitive to the situation and they knew what was going on. They were well prepared. There were one or two occasions where for example the instruction was to maintain eye contact with somebody and so I’m very used to maintaining eye contact with people. Probably the most experienced eye contacter in the room. I did notice that I had to check that the interpreters weren’t telling me to do something different. So then I would have to break eye contact quickly. So in a sense I was keeping my eye on them and keeping my eye on whoever else I was concentrating on.
What was like that for you as interpreters?
It was really interesting. Because we…well I’ll speak for both of us, you may have a different feeling, I don’t know…I felt very aware that both of us were wandering around so that whichever way that she was looking one of us would be in her eyeline. At the same time we wanted to feel involved but we didn’t want to make it obvious that we were apart from the group. So there were occasions when we were grabbed and stroked and whatever; I was quite conscious that we went with it but at the same time we were keeping an eye on where is she and where’s the other interpreter. Has one of us got her just on case? So it was…it was a split consciousness. I think it seem to work quite well.
Yes. I think to add to that, I think that description shows how hard they were working. Because they had to be conscious of several different things at the same time. As well as doing the standard interpreting task i.e. processing languages.
What do you think will be the thing you remember most?
Oh. Really hard to say. I think it’s really hard to say at the moment. It seemed a long time that we were in there and I think it was much longer than they told us it would be. Also…quite early on as I walked round the room I could see that I had a different perspective if I was looking into the light or standing with my back to the light. At the beginning that was quite crucial because if you were standing looking into the light everything seemed quite mysterious because it’s just one coloured light shining in the room. So I needed to make sure that I was comfortable and sussed out what was happening…and yet I wanted to experiment. It was an odd balance thing; but after a while that became irrelevant so that became quite interesting too. Staring at people’s noses for quite a long time or there chins was a bit odd.
Have you participated in similar things to this before?
I think this is unique. But having said that. Yes I am quite open to trying out different things. The most recent thing was a tour for D/deaf people of an exhibition at New Art Exchange that’s on currently. We had some group experiences as part of that which included…involved a circle of people holding hands. So I was at one point contrasting that because that was a hugely different experience whilst seeming the same.
How would you describe it in one sentence?
How would I describe it in terms of its impact on me or what it is?
The impact on you.
Challenging. Thought provoking. Big learning curve. Fun. Something that I will think about for quite a long time. Anything you want to add?
It’s interesting what she was saying about having to maintain eye contact and look at the interpreters in case there was any type of signing there; but for us we’re having to watch her but not stare too much that she thinks that something is coming, sometimes lose eye contact so that she can experience the surroundings, but then make sure I had an eye on the other interpreter and sometimes she’s got an eye on me. There was one point where she hand her hand…she was in the circle with her hand on someone’s shoulder and someone’s waist; I was on the other side, someone came and put their hand on my shoulder and my waist so I was three-handed so I had to…because they decided to do this to me…I decided to hold their hand and then guide them round so I could see her and I had my hands free and they made the decision to do this to me, I could sign, the other interpreter could be included.
It’s the balance between maintaining eye contact with her but not staring. Because you want to give her the experience.
Yes. If you’re staring at me I’m thinking there’s a message that they’re going to deliver.
It’s almost like we’re the conductor of communication.
Because we don’t know when it’s coming but we know something is coming but we don’t know when; so it’s like we need to be there, we need to be there. Ooh right. Now it’s gone. Very interesting.