di CLAy

London Touch Experiment

NODNOL Lives, London

July 1968

click here for report in New Society

The first Touch Experiment street event was in the Portobello Road, London in 1968. ‘NODNOL Lives’ was the title for fifteen different ‘happenings’ scheduled to take place across London on 1st June 1968.

Editorial comments in the Guardian and the Observer spoke of needing to “stay cool this Saturday” and of “odd things about to happen in London”: “…the startled public may be confronted with giant floating pillows, people wandering around in transparent masks, bags full of blood and bones scattered around the streets, orange smoke issuing from tall buildings, a demonstration of ‘scissorwork’ on hair, clothing etc … constructing an arch out of nothing, making incoherent train announcement noises at train stations. Most unnerving of all, a group is conducting a Touch Experiment …” (Observer Review, 26th May 1968)
This group consisted of five others and myself. The description of the experiment I gave them was as follows:
‘A group of people taking separate routes approach people in the street and physically touch them in a deliberate manner. On each encounter the idea of the experiment should be discussed and a leaflet on the subject given If the subject is sympathetic suggest that he/she takes several leaflets and continues the experiment with other people. Thus a series of spontaneous and continuous happenings occur’
This description was printed on the leaflet along with a quote from ‘The Divided Self’ (RD Laing), a number of sentences about touch and isolation to spark discussion, and a copy of the Observer article.
After the Experiment, each member of the group wrote a report on their ‘findings’. I used these reports as the basis for an article that appeared in the magazine ‘New Society’ on 15th August 1968, see link above.
The Experiment subsequently attracted considerable media attention including radio interviews with me on the Today Programme, ‘Woman’s Hour’, London Weekend TV and on German Radio, reports in London newspapers, and interest from the Australian Broadcasting Commission. Further reference was made to it in a book ‘The Assaults on our Senses’ by John Barr, Methuen 1970.