"The performances are a study into intimacy. They explore how differently a person feels when holding a stranger’s hand"
Glasgow-based artist Rosana Cade, creator of the Walking:Holding performances
Glasgow-based artist Rosana Cade ran the participatory performances, Walking:Holding, as part of Valletta 2018’s Capital of Culture programme. Sam Farrugia met the artist and joined one of the performances.
Walking:Holding is just what it sounds like. Participants are part of the performances as they stroll through the streets of a city, holding hands with strangers.
The artist behind it is Rosana Cade, who comes from Glasgow. In 2011, she received the Athena Award from New Moves International for Walking:Holding. The performances have been going on for seven and a half years and have taken place in Glasgow, Edinburgh – and now Valletta.
I meet Rosana for the second time in a small café in Valletta. The first time, we had met in the same café – but then she had met me with the words, ‘Everything you see now is part of the performance.’
I would describe myself as a shy and introverted person, especially when watching a performance with strangers. And here I was, walking around, hand in hand with someone I didn’t know. However, as Walking:Holding progressed, I felt more and more at ease, wondering less about how I would explain myself if someone recognised me in the street and more why such a simple gesture gained such interest from society.
Now I tell Rosana this – and she remarks that I’m not alone.
"A few people have said that as an audience member, you are walking around your town with the idea in your head that anyone you see could be a potential companion," she says.
"People talk about how nowadays we have all these sorts of connections online. But it is actually quite rare to be in skin-to-skin contact with someone and give them your undivided attention."
"The performance explores gender, sexuality and intimacy. The idea is one very personal to Rosana. ‘The work came from my own experience of being in same-sex relationships and how I didn’t always feel comfortable holding hands with my girlfriend," she explains.
Before Rosana started Walking:Holding, a lot of her work explored gender and sexuality, but she felt that she wasn’t reaching out to a wide enough audience.
"At the time I was questioning the purpose of such works as I felt like I was preaching to the choir," she says. "I wanted to be more activist."
Above all, the performances are a study into intimacy. They explore how differently a person feels when holding a stranger’s hand, how comfortable or uncomfortable the silence can be while walking, and how we connect more easily with the other person while holding hands.
The sense of awareness of how other people are looking at you was also something Rosana kept in mind, and something she wanted to reflect through the relationship between the public and those taking part in the performance.
"I grew up in a small town in the UK where you could always see somebody you know. In that environment, I find people are nervous of how they will be judged," Rosana says.
Walking:Holding has itself experienced some judgement from society.
"On the second night we were due to do the performance (in Glasgow) it was St. Patrick’s Day and there was a football match on," Rosana says. "The venue actually said it was too dangerous to do the performance on that night. They were worried that it would be dangerous for two men to hold hands."
"In another incident, in part of Edinburgh called in Leith, I had a man who was a cross-dresser in the performance," she continues. "On the first day he walked into a big supermarket in men’s clothes, trousers and t-shirt, and walked with different members of the audience all day with no comments. On the next day he was wearing a dress and make-up. He got banned from the supermarket because he was making customers feel uncomfortable."
Despite this, Walking:Holding has been positive, therapeutic even, for many of the participants.
"Several people in same-sex relationships have told me that they were too shy to hold hands with their partner in public before the performances," Rosana says. "After walking and holding during the performance, and they became more courageous. And the more you do it the more you become used to it."
When we are young, we are told to watch out for strangers and to fear those we don’t know. Rosana wants to promote those walking around us as more than faceless people.
"We are brought up to really distrust strangers and that’s a really negative thing in the world," she says.
Walking:Holding was part of Latitude 36 at Valletta 2018. The performances took place in July 2018.
You can read more articles by Sam Farrugia below.