On Thursday 15 October at locations around the globe, people will take part in The World’s Biggest Eye Contact Experiment. The experiment has its roots in the work of Montenegrin artist Marina Abromoviç, who famously invited people to sit across from her and hold her gaze during her residency at the MoMA in New York in 2010. It has been turned into a global ‘happening’ by The Liberators International, an organisation based in Perth (Australia) which is co-ordinating the mass action on Thursday. The aim is to encourage people to sit and hold eye contact for a minute, in order to promote and remind us of the possibility of ‘human connection’. Or, as the tagline for the event rather catchily puts it, ‘real connections don’t require WiFi’. Those in the vicinity of Elphinstone Hall at the University of Aberdeen at 2pm on Thursday can join one of only three sessions scheduled to take place in Scotland (the others are in Edinburgh and Glasgow), and can find out more via the event’s Facebook page. Those readers not in Aberdeen can find out if they are near an event here.
It might be said that the gesture and framing of the experiment rather simplifies the more complex and subtle dynamics of power arguably being played out in Abromoviç’s original version; but it nevertheless provides an opportunity to reflect on a form of human contact about which it is all too easy to become blasé. In the domain of visual theory, the gaze often has bad press as enacting and bespeaking unequal relationships of power; but equally, as the French philosopher Emmanuel Lévinas argued insistently, exposure to the face of the other is a fundamental trigger for ethical action.