Daan: “We make valuable encounters possible”

News overview

Because of the measures taken against the coronavirus, we hardly touch each other. Visual artist Daan ’t Sas of Building Conversation created the installation “Washing Hands” to bring physical contact back to everyday life in a responsible way. Passers-by and visitors, who may or may not know each other, each take a seat on their own side of a transparent screen encircling a basin to wash each other’s hands with soap. This ritual gives them the opportunity to touch each other and leads to extraordinary conversations. Daan tells more about this project supported by the BankGiro Lottery Fund.

Enabling contact

In the media, Daan saw people in care institutions who were cut off from the rest of the world. “Those were pretty intense images. They showed people communicating with each other through a window, for example,” he says. Daan asked himself the question: How can there be some form of contact and a meeting? Because we were all being told to wash our hands thoroughly, Daan thought it might be possible to meet there. “We found that quite exciting at the beginning. Because aren’t we thinking of something that is dangerous?” After thorough investigation, it turned out not to be the case.

Daan built an installation in his front garden so that he and his wife Lotte could wash their neighbours’ hands. “That was very extraordinary. We found out that, coronavirus aside, it’s a very interesting ritual. How do you touch each other? With how much attention? And what is that actually? And what kind of conversation results from it?” Not only does it satisfy the current need to touch each other, it is also exciting to do because it is an act that people are not used to performing.

Unforgettable encounters

At the installation is a host who welcomes people, briefly explains what the intention is, and cleans the installation between sessions. People can then read short instructions and get started. First, one person washes the hands of another and the person whose hands are being washed closes their eyes. After having their hands dried, the person opens their eyes again and the roles are reversed. “It is a very intimate moment of contact and that reciprocity is very beautiful – that you can give back what you have received.”

With the installation, they enable valuable encounters for people who either know each other or who are meeting for the first time. Daan and his colleagues get a lot of positive reactions from people who have performed the ritual. For example, one couple said that the ritual had helped them with their relationship problems. “Touching each other in this way made a big change in their relationship,” says Daan.

Strangers who meet during the ritual often leave together. “They go for a walk afterwards or have a cup of coffee. And I suspect that there has even been a relationship born out of the ritual. It was between a boy and girl who met a little awkwardly at the installation in a mental healthcare institution. The two of them then returned to wash each other’s hands one more time. And there are also people who return for a second time with someone else.”

From place to place

The installation is preferably placed in semi-public spaces, where physical encounters between two people are currently almost non-existent. There have already been installations at mental healthcare institutions in Amsterdam, the Frascati theatre in Amsterdam and in the design museum during the Boulevard festival in Den Bosch, in libraries, and opposite the Verkade factory. With support from the BankGiro Lottery Fund, the installation will be placed in more healthcare institutions and the encounters can be documented. “This way we can share it with even more people and bring it to people’s attention. And we get to places that would otherwise be out of our reach. That is very valuable.”