“Proxemi 9” by UE Ukpong
It is a playful reactive sound/digital media installation that attempts to direct global awareness to the social problems and alarming rate of violence against women in urban/public spaces across cities in Africa. Proxemi9 is an experimental work in progress—anchored on Edward Hall’s concept of personal space (proxemics) as it relates to the growing social problem of crime against women in public spaces, cities and urban communities across Africa. Proxemi9 explores through technology a designer’s interpretation of growing gender-based violence against women in urban/public spaces across the African continent.
“The cultural convergence of art, science and technology provides ample opportunity for artists to challenge the very notion of how art is produced and to call into question its subject matter and its function in society” (Stephen Wilson, 2002). Wilson (2002) provides a pre-conceptual background for my Proxemi9 installation proposal. Of growing interest to me are the social issues relating to urban space, gender, and culture in contemporary African environments. The inadequacy of innovative solutions to the problems in these interest areas need to be exploited through creative/technology-driven academic interaction/research and awareness.
This concern is underscored by South Africa's lower house of parliament’s passage of a new law on May 22, 2007 widening the legal definition of rape to help the government in its struggle against widespread violent crime. The Lower House voted unanimously in favor of a bill that replaces the common law definition of rape with a new expanded statutory offense of rape, applicable to all forms of sexual penetration without consent, irrespective of gender. Stephen Wilson’s statement therefore provides fodder for my proposal which seeks to exploit digital technologies and their role in creating real or metaphoric awareness on the social issues plaguing communities in urban/local African cities (public spaces).
Proxemi9 is a socially relevant research work that raises questions of sense of place and safety in contemporary African urban centres—using Johannesburg City as case study. Women in Africa are more often defenseless targets of social violence and gender bias. When unknown or untrusted people enter (intrude) into their space, they usually become uncomfortable or aggressive and sometimes react vocally. This scenario is captured in Proxemi9 and the feminine embodiment relayed through a talking red handbag whenever a person “violates” the limits or the woman’s personal space. Proxemi9 (being the title of my installation) is coined from the terms: PROXEMIcs and femiNINE (or 9). It promotes a sense of cultural, social, urban interaction through local language, sound and visual objects while it also attempts to portray contextualized meanings of personal space using a handbag (which eliminates human presence within the embodied installation space). Symbolised footsteps are applied within the space that leads viewers around the installation’s space with words that evoke the social problems, specific meanings, and locations within the City.
Public spaces/places are dynamic environments for all human activities. A public space is a place where anyone has a right to come without being excluded because of economic or social conditions, although this may not always be the case in practice. Public space has evolved as a touchstone for critical theory in relation to philosophy, (urban) geography, visual art, cultural studies and social studies and its relevance bears a renewed urgency as capital encloses more and more of what were thought of as 'commons'. The term 'Public Space' is also often misconstrued to mean other things such as 'gathering place', which is an element of the larger concept. Within public spaces there exists its sub-appropriation, which is the “personal space.” It is this sub-appropriation that my interactive art/design proposal focuses on. The concept of “personal space” was first studied by Edward T. Hall in his book “The Hidden Dimension” in 1969. He dealt with ethnographic studies relating physical distances and psychological comfort. He determined that people have well determined bubbles of comfort that surround them. For each person, there are multiple nested bubbles each one corresponding to a space that becomes more innately “personal” as the diameter decreases. According to Hall (1969) the largest bubble, which we still consider as personal, extends 2.5—4 feet beyond the body. Hall theorized that this distance is not arbitrary, but that it is directly related to the distance at which others could successfully control us. According to Hall (1969: pp.113) this distance is “... far enough for two people to touch hands, this is the limit of physical domination in the very real sense. Beyond it, a person cannot easily get his hands on someone else.” Hall called the study of personal space “proxemics” because it discusses the social effects of physical proximity. Herein lays the background and concept of my Proxemi9 proposal.
Could this installation help to significantly interrogate real or perceived human intentions/actions/reactions based on Hall’s proxemics concept and our layered interactions as public space users (in Africa’s growing criminal and female-victim relationship). It will in deed be useful to raise more awareness on the need for pro-active action to check the acts of crime and violence against the feminine gender more so through the creative use of digital new media technologies for design and artistic expressions.
According to Wilson (2002) every creation system beyond the apparatus of the body is technology. Hence, this interactive installation work is submitted in order to gain another exhibition platform/environment for further testing/feedback opportunities based on distinct user experiences. Such feedbacks will allow for refinement of the concept, enabling codes and interactivity, in order to adapt more complex potentials or problems.