To stroke (while keeping a distance)


It is March 25th. We are in the early days of our quarantine period, still under the illusion that the world will be able to go back to usual in two weeks. One by one, the faces of Floor and Rosanne—my work partners for the series Open Courses: Art & Medicine—appear on my screen. We wave at each other. While we discuss the various points on our agenda, our enthusiasm sometimes causes us to talk at the same time. It’s not very different from what happens during our regular face-to-face meetings. “So good that we can still talk and meet digitally! Yes, how lucky we are.” 

It is March 25th and we are happy to still be allowed to meet up with others, albeit at a distance of 1.5 meters. That’s still close enough to really see and talk to each other. We take endless walks with friends. Enjoy nature. Focus on the conversation we are having with each other. “It’s great, this. So nice.” 

It is March 25th and we take things one day at a time. We’re not aware yet that in the weeks to come, we will notice more and more often that you miss out on all nuance when you can’t just rest your hand on someone’s shoulder after a meeting. That we will begin to realise how much it means when someone presses your hand with a slightly firmer grip than usual to express sympathy. We have no idea yet that we will soon begin to avoid walks with friends, because not being allowed to touch when we say goodbye will become too confronting. We are not aware yet how desperate we will feel when we can’t give a friend a hug if she starts to cry. 

It is March 25th and the priority is on getting the coronavirus under control. But we don’t yet understand the mental consequences of social and physical isolation. Especially for those who are alone with their own fears and doubts. We haven’t thought about the physical consequences of this stress yet. 

It is March 25th and the third session of our Open Courses: Art & Medicine would normally have taken place today. Ironically, the theme of this session would have been Touch. Medical anthropologist Anna Harris and artist Eva Spierenburg would have had a conversation about the role of touch within their respective work practices. The Open Course has been postponed, but at the same time we feel the urgency for this meeting growing. In times of crisis, and particularly in times of quarantine, the need for touch is stronger than ever. Artist Rosanne van Wijk, who would have acted as moderator during the Open Course, has therefore chosen to present a work by Eva Spierenburg in another way. The description of the work is included in The Invisible Collection of Marres, House for Contemporary Culture. We invite you to experience this work in advance through this link, awaiting a new physical meeting at Jan van Eyck Academie. 

“I now often think about how we will touch and greet one another in the future. It feels as if this will never be the same as before. As if we will not be able to keep reproducing the performance of shaking hands in a sincere and natural manner.”
–Rosanne van Wijk

Pieternel Fleskens
Research & Education, Jan van Eyck Academie 


Image: Eva Spierenburg, photo by Jan-Kees Steenman


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