... on distance

Taking the form of an Exquisite Corpse Alexandra Ross and Gayle Meikle will explore the concept of distance through a timed email exchange of 3 days.

Distance connotes two things. The time taken to travel between two points. And the physical void between two objects. Indeed, in the Glass Menagerie, Tennessee Williams stated that “Time is the longest distance between two places.” Technology conflates both of these assumptions allowing for there to be a hastening of trajectory towards or from something, and also to remove the bodily element entirely.  How is it that when we both lived on the two Hebridean islands of North Uist and Skye in relative proximity as measured on a map of the globe, we spoke and communicated with less agility than we now do? Technology has allowed us to lean in, come close, and be intimate in this distance.  


Come close and yet still feel distant.

Please follow the Instructions carefully:

According to my first feelings (reactions), I would willingly admit members of each ethnic or racial group into the following classifications (please think of each group as a whole, and not of the best representative, nor the worst representative of that group you have known):


1. close kinship by marriage

2. very close friends

3. as my neighbours

4. into my work group

5. as a speaking acquaintance

6. as a visitor only to my country

7. exclude from my country


Please write the number of the statement above that corresponds to your feeling in the space provided to the left of each group name:




















_Hong Konger





























According to Wikipedia, social distance is "the perceived remoteness between a member of one social group to a member of another social group."   

Remoteness, here we are again, talking in geographical terms. 

In splendid isolation. 

From past experience that word delineates a negative geographical connotation. 

Remote from whom, what? I suppose the other. 


My dear friend,

I write this to you with love. A letter penned from afar. A ringing in the air. A vignette from my seat in the Mother City. Why do we not write anymore? I mean, write. Not typing words, allowing mistakes to fall onto the keys only to be erased, Rather, taking time to think about the tone, flow and import of words. Taking time to put pen to paper. 

I received your most recent missive and will take time to complete if for you in due course. You know I am part contrarian, so would like to rearticulate the form you have sent me – to unpick those titles and conflate this process a little. You know, my dear, that I would never wish deny you fulfilment of desires, as such I will answer, what I believe to be your question. 

Societally, where are my bonds that tie me? Emotionally as opposed to purely geographically. And so we return to ‘remoteness’. Something which continues to frustrate us both. Remote from what? Remote to whom? Dare not ask me to gravitate to ‘you’ or ‘your’ centre. Rather decolonize the Global South and ‘your’ perception. Distance is relative and equilibrium is elusive.

I must run my dear. I will write you another note soon. But as you know, I await your response before I continue. 


Until we are old and grey and sipping cherry by a fire. 



A letter! It is much more intimate seeing your scribing skill even though I do not have a physical copy of the paper to hold. Today I have travelled 80 miles by car and 7591 steps or 3.02 miles (still counting) by foot. This week I started monitoring my 'active' distance through a Fitbit. I wonder how this information will travel into the future. What will I do with all this information, will I look back at it, like one does when one comes across a memory box or diary, reminisce at how (non) active I was.  


Reviewing our exchange, the subject of distance becomes untethered from our original understanding moving between the geographical, social and temporal. Just as our understanding of distance unravels intimacy creeps in. It seems the two terms are unable to be divorced. Technology has played an important role in this coupling whether it is the pen you scribe with or the Fitbit that monitors my intimate bodily movements. These technologies seem to familiarise distance - make it feel less like an ‘other’. This symbiosis returns me to the concept of denizen (to which you introduced me). A word that has resurfaced in recent years with its etymology beginning in Medieval England.  Its earliest definition denotes a foreigner who is granted some rights, normally labour or land, from the King to operate economically within the country (England). The person does not have any political rights and is regarded as somewhere in-between - nor an alien or a citizen. 



AR:11.29, Thursday 7th July - office desk - Michealis School of Fine Art, Cape Town /// GM: 08.43, Friday 8, At the kitchen table, overlooking the castle, Steven's house, Edinburgh, Scotland /// AR: 11.08. Friday 8th July The Loading Bay, Cape Town, brunch and trying to keep warm /// GM: 16.46, Friday 8th July, Steven's kitchen table, Edinburgh, Scotland /// AR: 09.45, Cape Town, Sunday 10th July /// GM: 22:25, green leather couch, parents’ living room, Sunday 10th July, Motherwell, Scotland.




Questionnaire from: Assessing the Existence of Social Distance and Factors That Affect its Magnitude at a Southern University, Jerry Vincent Nix, University of Mississippi, Department of Sociology May, 1993

Voicenote – quote from p.78. Derrida, J. 2005, The Politics of Friendship, Verso Books

A chart depicting Edward T. Hall's interpersonal distances of man, showing radius in feet and meters.

Discussion on Denizens and the Precariat, by Guy Standing: https://www.opendemocracy.net/ourkingdom/guy-standing/denizens-and-precariat 




About the contributors: Gayle Meikle (UK) and Alexandra Ross (ZA) have been working collaboratively for almost ten years. This project is the first instalment in a new sonic exploration called "A Polyphonic Essay on Intimacy and Distance" and is being performed at the Transart Triennale in August in Berlin.

Transart Institute