Presentation 1 Notes / by Stephanie Beattie




My project is currently titled Hand Grammars, for reasons that are likely already clear to most of you.




My thesis project asks the questions:


Can designing small acts of cooperation inside of existing social situations reinforce mutual, reciprocal trust and vulnerability?


How might we employ arts/design research processes to create these acts and present them in order  to encourage discussion?




The focus of my research is on the tactile, the common handshake.  Please, turn to your neighbor & shake hands.

-a small, mutual ritual of cooperation

-cultural function

-also psychological/physiological

-engenders of mutual trust and willingness to cooperate  




Service & interaction design describe interactions not centered on a physical object.

-Focus on transactions being completed between a service provider (either a person or an interface) and a user


DOES NOT easily describe the handshake.

Here, both parties have equal action and position.

-An active metaphor of sorts for the rest of the relationship taking place around it


Social choreography,

Intersection of:

These design fields


Performing arts/performance art


With this space in mind, I have taken the handshake, and recreates it...


HAND GRAMMARS VIDEO a series of 5 symmetrical gestures between two equal participants.



AFTER a while


Through the shared understanding of their general meaning, the act of performing these signs physically creates a platform for other forms of specific discussion and connection.


I designed the series with already-existing contexts in mind,

using service blueprints to break down moments where the social script does not underline their reciprocal nature of the actions being performed.


THEN I used contact improv to explore meaningful touch that could live inside those moments without interrupting the flow of interaction.


They vary along the spectrum of intimacy, from

  1. transacting with strangers, such as buying a sandwich,

  2. to more extensive interactions, like receiving healthcare,

  3. to the highly charged and ambiguous context of negotiating physical and emotional intimacy with a partner.


The point of the gestures are primarily theoretical, to point to the possibility of reshaping our everyday relationships through touch.


I have been practicing them personally though.




In the next weeks,

-Collect documentary photos




Could they live in the world beyond me?

Used THE GESTURE OF CONSENT as my guinea pig

A series of (performance) experiments to explore the cultural salience & actual usability of the gesture.


These take two forms: discussion experiments and intimate experiments.



This is a public, hypothetical use of the gesture.

Cultural salience of gesture with experts in the fields of social/student health and... Experts in personal intimacy


It involves teaching a group of people the gesture and providing a series of prompts to facilitate conversation around it.


I will now teach you the gesture: find a partner by turning to your neighbor. The person sitting on the left will be the asker, and the person on the right will be the answerer.

ASKERS, imagine you are in a situation where you might like to increase intimacy with your partner. It does not have to have a sexual connotation. Place the five fingers of your NON-DOMINANT HAND in the air, offering the tips of them to your partner.

NOW, all answerers, WHETHER OR NOT you would like to get closer than you already are to your partner, touch your MIRROR HAND FINGERS to theirs, acknowledging the ‘ASK’.

NOW, BOTH partners press your palms together, in an acknowledgement of the intimacy that you ALREADY SHARE with each other.

Next, ANSWERERS, you have two choices. If you feel that this is enough intimacy, you can retreat from the gesture the same way you got into it. BUT, if you feel like moving FORWARD, YOU (AND ONLY YOU) have the choice of clasping your fingers to the asker’s palm, & if you do, ASKERS can do the same.


Formal experiments forthcoming:

Workshop with the staff of The New School Student Health Services on April 6


Workshop with the SexEd Collab studio class at Parsons.




Is the gesture of consent something that can actually help to negotiate intimacy?  

How can it actually be used in its current form?

These experiments explore that.


They involve:

  1. teaching the gesture to my partners & attempting to use it in my own intimate experience

  2. teaching it to people in stable partnerships for them to explore in their own relationships


These results will be collected in the form of ethnography, and either questionnaire or interview.


I engaged a collaborator at the New School for Drama, who I met for the first time for the purpose of demonstrating the use of the gesture in a socially consequential situation.

Here follows an excerpt from the experiment/performance, in which we actively use the gesture to negotiate the process of entering into an intimate encounter.



How best to frame questions to capture the full complexity of response in both types of experiment?

How best to represent the data I collect?

Further extension into the world (youtube tutorial, animated GIF, online?)