All my friends can’t relate. No time off to hesitate. Feel my head, touch my face. Two steps back, you’re in my space.
- Sugar Ray
The concept of personal space is an idea that everyone is familiar with. We all possess this invisible horizontal circumference around our body, which is filled with empty space. It is this circle that travels with us everywhere, is seen as our own, and no one should come into it unless they are asked. We are taught this from a young age by our parents. Do not get too close to someone when in the process of interacting with them and vice versa. It is this single lesson that stays with us throughout our lives and makes us think negatively when someone chooses to come into our personal space when not invited. The idea of someone coming in too close or even being touched without permission makes one feel as if their personal space has been intruded or violated.
As I’ve gotten older, this idea of personal space has popped into my mind over and over again. Especially while living in New York City, a place where having personal space is not really an option. Whether you’re getting onto the subway or walking down 5th Avenue, you’ll notice that people actually possessing the “correct amount” of personal space is few and far between. Constantly feeling crowded makes one feel uncomfortable and awkward. However, my piece, Inter-Personal Space, aims to change those feelings that arise when someone comes into your intimate personal space.
This piece is based around the simple act of touching, and exemplifies it visually. A behavior that we were told “was not socially acceptable”, should now has positive connotations behind it. Over the years, voluntarily touching and coming into someone’s space has gotten a bad reputation, and it is time for the tables to be turned. Through the simple act of play, people can realize that this form of interaction can be fun as well as socially gratifying and physically beneficial.
Inter-Personal Space touches on three main concepts: play, interaction, and personal space. All of these terms cohesively intermingle with one another to create my piece. Webster’s American Dictionary defines play as ” the conduct, course, or action of a game… playfulness… absence of serious or harmful intent” (____). To interact is “to act upon one another” (651). However, the only way to interact physically is to come into someone’s personal space, “the distance from other people or things that a person needs in order to remain comfortable” (____). Therefore the combination of these three terms is the equivalent of participating in a playful act, that has no intention of being harmful or inappropriate, while closing the gap between the two players in order to create physical interaction. Or in other words, two people must be in a state of play and physically interact with one another, which would involve them coming into one another’s personal space.
My piece, Inter-Personal Space, should be seen as an interactive performance piece. It consists of a headband that promotes touch and the disappearance of personal boundaries. The headband is embedded with LED lights that only light up when it is being pressed by another person. Once the headband lights up, people witnessing will notice the act of touching, and the people touching will feel as if they had reached their goal; getting the light to turn on through interaction. This piece could, potentially, be worn by anyone in the public who would like to be interacted with.
Once the headband is placed on the head, an inherent set of rules would be put into play. People who see the headband, would know that the person wearing it would like interaction. However, in order to interact with the wearer, one must come in contact by his/her own head. Using the head as an instrument for touching may seem a bit absurd, but it is in fact, a very intimate way of touching another person. Usually, when a person interacts with someone they use a firm handshake, which is extremely impersonal. Nonetheless, this is “the greeting that is normally considered to be socially acceptable”, according to the online site Culture in The USA (”Personal” par. 2). This can all be traced back to our teachings and personal experiences throughout our lives. This mass-approved greeting is a way in which one can physically interact, while keeping their personal space intact without even knowing it. Daniel P. Kennedy, a professor of Biology at California Institute of Technology, claims that personal space “is not something we consciously think about, although, we become acutely aware when our space is violated” (”Caltech” 2). Inter-Personal Space will be used to view “violating” someone’s space in a more positive light. It is, essentially, a tool to get more closer and create stronger connections with people. Strangers will have to voluntarily come into one another’s intimate personal space and touch, which is currently not tolerated by the public.
The term “personal space” can be seen as simple, but in fact, it is quite complex. Within this idea of personal space there are four different zones, which were brought to light by Edward Hall, author of The Hidden Dimension, in 1966. He created these realms when he was analyzing Proxemics; “the study of set measurable distances between people as they interact” (_____). As he observed people’s body spacing, he placed them into categories (from the outside working inwards towards the body): Public space, Social distance, Personal distance, and Intimate distance. These are integrated together to create one’s personal space. Each zone is designated to a particular group/s of people, but the distance within these zones can change from person to person. Public space is the outer space which is furthest from a person, and extends about 12 to 25 feet outwards from the body
(____). At the end of this boundary, is “the public”, which can also be classified as strangers or people that one does not socialize with. Inside of these 12 feet is another zone called the Social distance. This realm can be 4 to 12 feet away from the body, and is used for formal or impersonal interactions (____). This is the space a person would use when meeting a client or someone in their professional field. The next space is the Personal distance, which is reserved for friends and acquaintances and expands from 1.5 to 4 feet long (____). The closest space to someone’s body is the Intimate distance. It is roughly about 6 to 18 inches from the body and is only meant to be used by a certain group of individuals: family, close friends, and pets (_____). Due to this being the space where displays of affection take place, not many people let others into it. Anne Katherine, author of Boundaries- Where You End and I Begin, claims that the only exception to rule are healthcare professionals when one is “incapacitated and must receive medical attention (49). With Inter-Personal Space, this would all change. People would no longer be put into a categories based on whether-or-not they could interact with someone. Everyone wearing the headbands would display that their “personal barrier” was let down, and invite others to play along and let down their barriers, as well.
As humans, we all have an internal need to be touched and/or interacted with by others. Being in a new place, away from family and close friends (people designated to the intimate space zone), may cause one to not have these social and physical interactions as much as they would like. This is a scenario where too much personal space is a bad thing, and physical interactions need to occur; Inter-Personal Space would be one way to reassure that these actions would take place and fulfill these needs. People would realize that the act of touch is not only a gratifying form of communication, but is also “an expression of nurturance and support”, states Edward W.L. Smith, author of Touch in Psychotherapy: Theory, Research, and Practice (9). Touch is used as a tool for communicating, says Touch author, Tiffany Field, but it is also vital for the survival humans; especially children whose growth and development thrive on this (5). Physical interaction can be described as fundamental, multilayered, and a powerful form of communication. It can contribute to growth, as well as contribute to healing where growth has been disrupted (Smith 16). Physical interaction can also have some positive health effects: a study conducted with the action of touch for 30 minutes a day for a week, left people feeling “less depressed and less anxious than they had been, and their stress hormones (cortisol and norepinephrine) had decreased” (Field 61).
Physical interaction is a staple for human life; if it was to be taken away/ not used to its full potential, it could do serious damage to an individual. Touch deprivation does not only harm one’s mental state with feelings of loneliness and neglect, but also affects the body’s immune system. There has been a number of studies, conducted on monkeys, that deal with the relationship between “physical contact and the body’s ability to respond to an immunological challenge ( a tetanus shot)”. The results show that the immune system becomes suppressed, by producing “less natural killer cell activity ( natural killer cells are the front line of the immune system and are noted for warding off viral and cancer cells)” (64). However, physical interaction can change all of this. Just the simple act of touching can influence the immune system in many ways: lower arousal levels, lower stress hormones, and decrease heart rate (65). Therefore, improving one’s immune function and being an advantage to one’s health. Inter-Personal Space can be good for personal health?! Who knew.
This piece was inspired by 3 different precedents, some more technologically advanced than others. The main inspiration was Christine Liu’s 2005 piece, Mollycoddle. This is a dress that needs love and attention when being worn by someone. “The dress is sort of an externalization of the wearer’s need for affection and attention. If the dress doesn’t get touched or hugged in a while, it gets lonely, and the same goes for the wearer”, claims Regine, the author of The Needy Dress (par. 3). If the wearer does not show enough attention to the dress, then it will begin to squeeze the individual until he/she caresses it (par. 4). This needy dress tends to take on a mind of its own, letting the wearer feel as if the clothing is a living thing that needs love too. Inter-Personal Space and Mollycoddle are similar in that they both deal with human physical interaction as a form of communication, however, Liu’s piece explores the relationship between people and their clothes while my piece explores touching and intimate personal space.
Another precedent that inspired me, when it came to the technological aspect of my work, is Maggie Orth’s Firefly Dress. This dress was created in 1998, and is made with
metallic silk organza, conductive yarns, conductive Velcro, LED lights, gold beads, silk, batteries, and electronics. Orth describes how her piece works by saying, ” The skirt of the dress is sewn with two layers of conductive material (power and ground) separated by tulle. LEDs with conductive Velcro brushes are attached to each end and suspended in the tulle. When the wearer moves, the conductive Velcro contacts the conductive fabric, completing the circuit and causing the LED to light” (par. 1). The Firefly Dress gave me the idea to look into LED lights for my project, and this description also gave me suggestions for how I would get Inter-Personal Space to technically work.
The last precedent for my piece is the Schizo-Pullover by artist Rosemarie Trockel. This double-headed turtleneck is seen as a work of art, rather than wearable technology (Liu and Orth’s works). She created the two-person-sweater in 1988, that actually fits two people in it at the same time, making it impossible not to touch. Andrea Scrima, writer of Career Woman and Material Girl: Staged Femininity in the Works of Contemporary Women Artists, claims that in 1994, Trockel also created a short film, Continental Divide, that displays the artist and another woman constantly touching while wearing the pullover
(par. 4). It was this particular work that got me thinking about interaction and our need, as humans, to be touched and physically stimulated. By combining my inspirations from the previous works of Liu, Orth, and Trockel; I created Inter-Personal Space.
*want to type this up once I am through with all the stages.*
a. Prototypes (stages of iterations)
b. What is involved/ technical aspects/ how it’s made
- Soft circuitry
-Phillips, Elliot. “Full Fabric Soft Switches”. Hack-A-Day. 2008. Website. November 15, 2009.
- Skylar and Chris. “LED Circuitry Tutorial”. The LED Light: The Future of Lighting. 2003. Website. November 14, 2009.