The Lockdown Touch Diaries

The Lockdown Touch Diaries is a collaboration led by Lisa May Thomas, with Studio Wayne McGreggor and the InTouch project. Lisa is a dance artist, filmmaker and researcher (University of Bristol), resident at Pervasive Media Studio in Bristol, and Studio Wayne McGregor 2019 QuestLab Network artist.

The project brings together dance artists, arts and social science researchers and creative technologists to create audio-visual diaries around the theme of ‘expanded touch in lockdown environments’ – to map and document experiences of touch over the period of Covid19 restrictions around physical distancing and avoidance of physical contact. The project will explore the changing nature of our relations toward each other through negotiations of physically distanced moments of exchange and the use of digital technologies; and toward our surroundings – of home and in the local outdoors. The project will interrogate touch through digital sound and touch as sound, and the methodological potentials of working across dance and social science for understanding touch and its digital futures.

The project re-visits previous community dance project The Touch Diaries, created by Lisa May Thomas in 2016 and supported by Arts Council England, which explored the role and value of touch in people’s lives through a series of workshops and a diary study which mapped physical contact over a period of seven-days. Lisa gathered material from a wide range of population groups including older people, patients on a hospital dementia ward, a youth theatre group and intergenerational/family groups. The central theme that emerged across these materials was the sense of an absence of touch in the lives of the participants, and in the lives of their families and the communities around them. In this absence, participants found themselves tuning into touch as remembered or imagined, and this brought a sense of ‘presence’ of touch and tactility. The presence of touch, not as a physical skin-to-skin or surface-to-surface contact, but as a tactile experience of connection. Out of The Touch Diaries, a screen dance and live performance was created, both of which explored ‘absence’ as a central theme.

Screenshot 2020-06-10 at 12.22.21
The Touch Diaries (2015), dancers Anne-Gaelle Thiriot and Will Dickie explore ‘absence of touch’, image by Paul Blakemore, Marine Theatre Lyme Regis

The Lockdown Touch Diaries collaboration will explore the experience of touch in an ‘expanded’ realm. To do this a broad palate of touch-sensing is used to open up ‘tactile relations’ toward human and nonhuman ‘other’ which understands that touching is always ‘in relation’ – a giving and receiving, a touching and a touched. This palate includes a ‘felt’ sensing, which occurs through the bodily (‘somatic’) senses including the sense of:

· the internal state of the body – ‘interoceptive’

· the body’s position felt as a muscular tension – ‘proprioception’

· the movement of body and limbs – ‘kinesthesia’

· the balance derived from information in the inner ear – the ‘vestibular sense’

It also encompasses the notion of touch as an emotional feeling and affect as well as metaphorical meanings of touch (Paterson, 2007). The collaboration will work with participants’ diaries – written, drawn, movement scores, and video recordings, to explore what ‘touch-strategies’ are being adopted in the absence of physical contact including, how we might give or receive a hug or a handshake through the screen or the air between people, and how our environments ‘touch’ us.

The Lockdown Touch Diaries will interrogate if and how our relationship to touch is changing and engage with what the future embodiment of this time might come to look and feel like. How might we remain open at this time of no-touch, an opening outward, a ‘reaching toward’ in our relations to each other and to the environment? What might it mean to inwardly contract? Might we, when it is time to touch and to come close again, find ourselves tightly held, need routes to unravel?

Screenshot 2020-06-10 at 12.22.31
The Touch Diaries (2016) dancer Anne-Gaelle Thiriot ‘embodying the diaries’, image by Alice Hendy, The Edge, University of Bath

The project has two phases. The first ‘seed’ phase supported by Studio Wayne McGregor, will develop and share material from the diaries to create online experiences and discussions. The second phase of the project will develop the diary materials into a set of immersive experiences.

This collaboration is supported by additional funding from Research England’s Higher Education Innovation Fund (HEIF), administered by UCL Innovation & Enterprise.