Walking:Holding is an experience for one person at a time, where you are invited to go on a walk through a town or city and hold hands with a series of different local strangers along the way. These strangers are local participants who’ve been recruited to be part of the project and are all different to each other in terms of race, gender, background and age.
It is partly about experiencing how you are perceived differently by the public depending on who you hold hands with. For example, what is it like to hold hands in a same sex couple, or with people with different disabilities, or someone much older or younger than you? By walking and holding their hands you get an insight into what it might be like for these people to encounter others on the street, and where and when they feel challenged.
At the same time it is also an opportunity to see what it’s like to hold hands with someone you’ve not met before, and how that might affect your interaction with each other. Some see holding hands as a very intimate act; some see it as an act of care, or peace, or solidarity.
I’ve been touring the performance for five and a half years to different towns across the UK, Europe and Hong Kong. This year I have embarked on a UK tour to Reading, Colchester, Leith, Stoke-on-Trent and Doncaster, and will be finishing the tour in Leeds in November. Across the tour a whole range of different people have been involved, all bringing their own unique experiences of the places where they live and the act of holding hands.
Whilst there are many issues that come up that link us as humans, the piece also highlights and aims to spread understanding of the differences between people. This tour started the week directly after the Brexit result, when it felt like there were deep divisions across the country, and people were forced to confront questions about who we are and how we accept difference.
In Reading 58 per cent voted remain, but an eastern European migrant who took part in the performance said it had changed how she felt about being in the UK, made her less relaxed in public spaces and more fearful of racism.
Colchester, Stoke-on-Trent and Doncaster all had a majority in favour of Brexit, the latter two both with 69 per cent leads. Walking around the town to plan the performance in Stoke-on-Trent we noticed a lot of graffiti, slogans like: “Vote leave. Fuck the Elite.” One of the participants who took part there was originally from India and had studied a masters concerning the EU. She voted leave in the referendum and spoke about the hatred she had suffered following the vote, and how much it hurt her that people were framing it as a racist decision. Hers was a left wing socialist decision and I was struck by the amount of hatred and prejudice that was happening on both sides of the argument.
It will be incredibly interesting to come to Leeds, which is one of the closest places in the whole country (50.3 per cent remain and 49.7 per cent leave) five months after the decision, to understand what people are thinking about place, identity and difference in public space and what discussions might open up when we hold hands with each other.