This project about empathy looked at splenic palpitation and a performative experience of hand cleansing as a way to open up an encounter via touch. It took place with the system of hospital as a space in which this type of encounter (comprised of Angela, members of staff, her touch and in the case of the performative hand washing, the bottle of lotion and the metaphor of drawing; telling a story with a simple tool in the palm of the hand) was in contrast to the hustle and bustle of the clinical activities that take place there.
It was possible because Angela was a physician and is an artist and so has connection to the actors involved. The encounters took place many times. It took place with the staff of the hospital as the actors and produced an open space for encounter for them, a space in which they were able to renegotiate meaning. This idea of creating a space of encounter through touch opens up possibilities for community building.
This project attempted to open up and focus on creating a space of encounter through touch and the metaphor of touch. The moment of encounter happens within a kind of ‘third space’ (Oldenburg): a space that is not work, not play but rather a particular kind of social space in which an encounter with meaning can happen and which requires a ‘different way of being’. It is constituted and catalyzed by art, weaving in and out of setting, actions, gestures and artifacts). This space is touch that is characterized by: authenticity; equality; intimacy; dialog; non-hierarchy that involves a dance in which leadership and followership are passed back and forth. It often happens at a time of crisis and/or after trust has been built over a period of time. It often requires patience to look for or recognize the moment of opportunity to apply ‘touch’ to open up the space of encounter and nurturing.
Ray Oldenburg (1991) suggests that bier gartens, main streets, pubs, cafes and other ‘third’ places are the heart of a community’s social vitality and the foundation of a functioning democracy. They promote social equality by levelling the status of guests, proving a setting for grassroots politics, create habits of association and offer psychological support to individuals and communities.