The title explains it all: “Embrace: The Utopia of Hugging for 20 Minutes” is the newest exhibit in a series called Outside The Lines: New Art from China by RH Contemporary Art, the arts division of Restoration Hardware that launched last November. If the thought of this makes you uneasy—which is the point, of course—then you’re exactly who artists Gao Qiang and Gao Zhen are inviting to hug it out on March 9.
“People all desire to love and embrace, but this desire has often been suppressed, alienated or put aside due to the discomfort of expressing our love,” the Gao Brothers explained to DuJour over email. “Hugging is an easy yet difficult task, so we felt the need to mobilize people to better express those desires and prove that hugging strangers should not be that awkward.”
The Gao Brothers, known best for their socially-charged performances, installments, sculptures and photography, have been organizing this particular interactive performance since 2000. Enlightened by an impromptu hug after a 1999 performance in Beijing demonstrating cultural violence in society, the duo found significance in the simple act of an embrace and from then on continued to capture it—with complete strangers—through “The Utopia Of Hugging For Twenty Minutes” in cities around the world.
The largest performance involved 10,000 people at China’s Jianwai SOHO in 2003, where, even among thousands, most huggers bailed. “Only a minority actually embraced one another while the rest were shy and self-conscious,” they said. New York’s “Embrace,” to be held at 437 West 16th Street, will only have 60 volunteer participants, but by the way the brothers describe how the event will work, it’s easy to understand the anxiety: “We will suggest that the participants should close their eyes and open their arms to look for each other for hugging.”
Participants for the March 9th performance should pre-register (send your name, age, and country of origin to email@example.com), but no RSVP is required for spectating. we’d argue, though, that watching strangers embrace each other for 20 minutes is the more awkward situation.