Shimmer, an exhibition space in Rotterdam, and PUBLICS, a library and curatorial agency in Helsinki invited poets, philosophers and curators from around the world to explore the notion of intimacy in reading sessions. The programme is called Across the Way with… and the readings take place on Mondays. Curator Eloise Sweetman answered some questions about the project.
How do you think the current situation has changed how we view and enact intimacy?
The question of intimacy has always been up for debate. We learn intimacy through childhood to adulthood through the relationships that we forge. That experience is unique to each one of us. In times like these, that experience of intimacy is amplified. Still, it is mediated through a glove, a mask, a phone, a computer, a window, a door, or a plexiglass shield. It is also really interesting to think about all those families, housemates, and partnerships that had to relearn to be together or apart—an intimacy of proximity and distance. We also experience an intimacy that is created in solidarity with those most at risk in our communities. We go inside not for ourselves, but for those that we might not ever meet.
What role does a public enactment on intimacy play in these times of isolation?
More than ever, we need to have public displays of intimacy as a means to rethink what our global community is and can be. Intimacy is vulnerability, it is conflict, it is passion, it is rage. It is interesting to see how it manifests during this time when we see authority figures video calling from their private spaces or those that we expect to have the answers often do not.
Intimacy is often defined as something private and personal. How does the idea of intimacy change when it’s made public?
We are interested in the intimacy that can be expressed in forums that would have otherwise denied it. Intimacy isn’t just about ‘love or friendship’ but a real-life experience that has been dismissed in the public realm because it is considered informal or ill-timed. We are influenced by the book Writing Intimacy into Feminist Geography (2017).
We see Across The Way With… as a site of public intimacy despite its digital form.
How did you decide to explore the theme in online readings?
Initially, we wanted to organize a live reading group with people from all over the world, calling in from their homes. We quickly realised it would be impossible to do that because of different time zones, but also because not everyone has access to stable internet connections. We came up with the idea of recorded online readings which we would then write captions for. The recordings can be accessed anywhere, at any time, they can be read or listened to. You just need an internet connection and time.
Which texts are being read in the readings? Why did you choose these texts in particular?
We invited the readers to choose a text that they thought fit the programme, we specifically asked them to choose a text they wrote and not someone else’s. Each time we are pleasantly surprised at each text.
How would you describe this project in relation to your earlier artistic projects?
This project fits nicely between Shimmer and PUBLICS. Shimmer has an event program called Sunday Morning that invites poets, philosophers, artists, and so on, to lead a morning workshop. At the same time, PUBLICS has a vast library and hosts events and book launches that often involve the intimate act of listening to someone reading to you. So it fits well with their programme as well.
What has been the best thing about the project?
The best part of this programme is all our readers and our audience. We can see a generous and challenging community emerging from this project, and we are excited to see it grow.
Text: Veera Mietola, Image: Shimmer Rotterdam