“Of course we are moving away from touch!” exclaims Francis McGlone, a professor in neuroscience at Liverpool John Moores university and a leader in the field of affective touch. He is worried. “We have demonised touch to a level at which it sparks off hysterical responses, it sparks off legislative processes, and this lack of touch is not good for mental health.” He has heard of teachers asking children to stick on a plaster themselves, rather than touch them and risk a complaint. “We seem to have been creating a touch-averse world,” he says. “It’s time to recover the social power of touch.”
- Paul Cocozza, No hugging: are we living through a crisis of touch? guardian.co.uk, retrieved 31/07/18.
Vision Forum and Morgondagens konstpublik are together developing a performance project that takes its starting point in contemporary research on inter-personal touch. Scientific results show that inter-personal and affectionate touch is getting increasingly sparse. This trend, in turn, creates social problems and poses a threat to human well-being. The project brings together creators (musicians, dancers, writers and visual artists ) to a set of workshops. In the process we will use methodologies that are unique to dance and performance. These somatic practices (that focus on the experience of the body rather than its aesthetic outer appearance) constitute a tool to investigate the complexity of human nature and human interaction. By alternating between bodily exercises and related theoretical discussions, we can move beyond genres, disciplines and national borders. The project brings together different forms of knowledge (scientific, artistic, medicinal) that otherwise would be separated. The group will collectively explore how artists together can develop new and unique artistic and performative expressions by working across genres.
Each workshop will be 3-4 days long. The practical and theoretical exercises that are undertaken with the aim that the artists should test and develop their feeling of their bodies. All with the goal of to overcoming fear and to feel intelligent, beautiful and safe together.
Through the process the group cooks and eats collectively. The participants are also actively engaged in forming topics for discussion as well as shaping the collective exercises. Many workshops will include public work-in-progress presentations where the audience becomes engaged in the performances
The Science of the Project
What distinguishes affective touch from other types of touch is its speed. A caress has a specific speed and pressure (McGlone et al. 2014). Touch is commonly thought of as a single sense, but it is much more complex than that. Some nerve endings recognize itch, others vibration, pain, pressure and texture. And one exists solely to recognize a gentle stroking touch, known as “c tactile afferents.” All human beings need continuous affective touch. This holds especially true for the developing body and lack of gentle touch can most likely lead to development of ADHD and autistic traits (Voos et.al, 2012, 2013.) There is also evidence that young people who do not experience affective touch to the desired degree, are more likely to become engaged in drug abuse than others (Paulus et al. 2013,14.)
By studying the research in the field we become aware of how complex our everyday actions are. Imagine picking up a paper mug with coffee. Without reflecting, you can lift it to your mouth. You know straight away that it is made of paper and you do not press it too hard, so you do not crumple the paper and spill the liquid. You know how much power is needed to lift it, so you do not pour it over your clothes.
The project is supported by the City of Stockholm. (The picture comes from the public presentation of “Our Need for Consolation” and depicts Emmi Venna, Sara Gurevitsch and Simone Bang Jørgensen.)