Yesterday during the MuseumNacht (Museum Night) in Amsterdam, I had the chance to visit ‘Intimate Strangers‘, a temporary exhibition in the FOAM Photography Museum on the work of the Dutch photographer Sanne Sannes.
The MuseumNacht is an annual event in which 26,000 people visit the museums of Amsterdam at night, often for the first time in their lives. Sanne’s work is slightly erotic and intimate in its nature. On top of that, although photography is a very popular form of art, I think it’s one of the more difficult ones to engage your audience with. It’s easily accessible, but difficult to have people take their time to really discover the layered experience good photography can give you.
In the face of these challenges, FOAM had organised an exhibition in the dark, where two strangers were grouped to share an audio tour. With a little light on our heads we could see the photos, while on our headphones Sanne talked about the erotic nature of his work.
At first I did not really feel comfortable in the exhibition. With sound and sight limited, the only way to interact with the woman I shared the tour with, was by physical interaction. This did feel very intimate, something I’m not easily comfortable with if it comes to strangers. Furthermore, because our headlights shone a very direct light on the piece we were looking at, and most of the pieces were erotic in nature, it felt like being watched watching things you shouldn’t watch.
After a while, however, I realised the woman I was touring with and I had more or less the same way of visiting an exhibition. We could take our time without annoying the other and it even started to become less awkward to be so physically connected. After the audio stopped, we engaged in conversation about the art on display and the way it made us feel.
I think the entire experience took only 20 minutes, but after the initial process of getting used to it, I really had a special and intimate experience with a complete stranger. Ever since, I’ve been thinking about the exhibition and what it did to me. By now, I’m extremely enthusiastic about the set up of ‘Intimate Strangers’.
There’s, imho, a thing or two to learn from this experience:
- To have strangers talk about art in a museum, you might try to get them as far as possible outside of their comfort zone.
- Audio guides especially work if they’re part of a broader sensory experience.
- It can be successful to force people to spend time with art, if you combine it with a special experience.
The queue for ‘Intimate Strangers’ was at least an hour when I visited it early at night. Many people must have visited the exhibition. I’m curious what other people think about it and what it did with them.