What would you do if a stranger offered you a candy in a public space?
A Sweeter Journey is an ongoing artistic exercise in the form of a social experiment. The project undertook a comparative study of social interactions, or the lack of it, in public spaces, such as that of mass transport systems. Initiated in Hong Kong, the project extended its geographical scope to Mumbai, Zürich and Hamburg.
The project manifested itself across different mediums at different stages. It began as a performative act in public spaces, in which I directly interacted with the audiences. The act, recorded as video footage, formed the basis for further artistic exercise; painting. The paintings distill my journey across three very different cities. Through the development of the paintings, I was able to freeze very special fleeting moments, in which I shared temporary yet extraordinary relationships with strangers. A relationship built on trust, faith and mutual respect. Working each canvas layer by layer allowed me to stretch the moment over weeks and engage with it in a personal way.
As I commute by public transport systems in Hong Kong, India or elsewhere, I can not help but wonder why an integral public space, where millions of commuters spend a substantial amount of time each day should remain a place for deliberate social disengagement and isolation. Through my project A Sweeter Journey, I attempted to get past the unsociability and create an enjoyable social exchange. Would the commuters be receptive to such an exchange should an opportunity present itself? To find out, I intervened in transport systems of various cities by distributing pieces of candy to commuters unknown to me. A simple and seemingly harmless action lends itself to being read in various ways, depending on age, gender, ethnicity of the participants as well as their social and cultural contexts. My aim was to evoke a response, hopefully positive.
In its development, the project evolved conceptually and was accordingly altered. For the experiment to be successful it was imperative that its condition be constant across all cities. For example, an intervention in Mumbai’s trains carried out by me with Indian ethnic origin could not be equated with the same act by me in Zürich or in Hong Kong. In the latter, my gesture and motivation were more likely to be misconstrued owing to my nationality, linguistic limitations, ethnicity and related social and cultural connotations, thereby contaminating the experiment. I, therefore, facilitated the experiment in Zürich with the help of local volunteers. Back in Hong Kong, I am in the process of redoing the experiment, to be carried out by the locals. I would be be keen to see if there indeed exists a difference in audiences’ response to the same act by a local or a foreigner.