Washing Hands

Video installation – Waschstation, 2017 – 2019

Washing one’s hands is one of our most commonplace actions, we master it quasi- automatically and usually do not pay it all that much attention. But in its participatory spatial installation “Washing Hands”, Empfangshalle focuses on precisely this process, thus opening up a completely new perspective on this routine activity.
The audience members have to involve themselves in a new experience. That is the precondition. They don’t just wash their own hands, they use only one hand to wash the hand of another person. The routine is broken up, a simple action becomes strangely unfamiliar. For this purpose, Empfangshalle has installed a kind of washing station, a stele with two sides: one of them is concave and equipped with sensors to let water flow and to film the act of hand-washing.
Directly after the hand-washing, the participants can watch a video of it on a monitor wall on the opposite side of the stele. There they can watch the action 25 times more slowly, i.e. the action is greatly distorted by an extreme slow-motion, creating an incredible feeling of nearness. The images, which run in virtually hypnotic prolongation, emanate a sensuous intimacy that could not appear in real-time. The hands perform an almost sensual choreography, which has nothing more in common with the pragmatic level of cleansing. They seem to be turning about in the water jet for their own sake – a highly ambivalent representation that confronts the viewers with an unexpected ambiguity and challenges their viewing habits in relation to their own bodies.
By addressing this ever-present, but often not perceived sensuality Empfangshalle (in the sacred context of a church) opens up a highly dense symbolic space that alludes to ancient and biblical motifs (“one hand washes the other”; “washing one’s hands of the matter”) and also evokes the central role played by the change of perspective that enables two strangers to meet each other eye to eye.

Markus Ostermair