Speaking into Silence

I remember the day as grey and rainy when I met Nina in a cafe in Neukölln Berlin (somewhen in 2016). We hadn’t seen each other for a while and were only acquainted for around half a year at that point. In my bag I carried a sketch that was already called “Speaking into Silence”, and amongst other things it was this sketch that I came to talk about with her. 

Nina and I hadn’t worked together yet, we just met at a couple of events that she and others were organizing/hosting at the Hidden Institute (and by chance at one of our favourite local bars). It seemed to me that Nina and I were in a similar situation: We both were relatively new to Berlin, feeling a bit alienated by its non-committal culture, unable to find our spot in self-satisfied communities. Also, I had the impression that my images of what type of cultural work I had in mind resonated with Nina’s visions, and vice versa. As it turned out, I was right: Nina took up the initial idea and together we molded it into its current form.

At the same time, I found myself torn between a lot of projects that equally needed my attention. They were so numerous that my mind tended to shift from one another, leaving me no space to step back for a while and replenish my energies. I got stuck, frustrated, demotivated. This was all the more tragic to me as I wholeheartedly loved the projects I was working on. I saw no part of my life where I could put my mind off things — even when going for a walk or to sleep, the responsibility of taking care for my own projects was haunting me, making me restless.

I am putting those biographical anecdotes of Speaking Into Silence down because it is its social background. The idea was born in this conundrum of feelings, born out of it. 

So what is Speaking Into Silence? Practically, it is a circle of people sitting with their backs to each other in darkness — apart from candles burning in their middle. In front of each person is another candle that they can light whenever they want to say something, as long as nobody else has a lit candle in front of them. Once the candles in the middle are burnt out, the session is over — leaving the group in darkness and silence. 

Speaking and sitting in silence are equally important parts of it. No one should feel forced to say something, no one should feel prohibited to say what is on their mind/heart. Time is plenty. Also: The setup relieves you from showing emphatically that you are listening. As a speaker you will learn to trust that others are listening to what you say — or abolish the expectations that everybody has to pay equal attention to you.

We wanted to create a space in which you are relieved from the contemporary duty of communicating and receiving constantly — no matter how insignificant it might be. Social media has exactly become this machine that is pouring bullshit over you (the presidential election in the USA, especially one candidate, were everywhere at the time), keeping you occupied with stuff you might not want to be occupied with. It’s incredible how apathetic one can get if flooded with the same information over and over again, even when it comes in variations (newscast, late night-shows, comedy, comics…). I grew tired of shallow, irrelevant, misinformative, or depressive input. 

It is one of my favourite aspects about Speaking Into Silence that whenever somebody says something it usually gets time and space to float around. It doesn’t really matter what it is — be it a secret, an emotion, a thought, a joke, a story, an image — I can dive into the nuisance of what was just said (5, 10, 15 minutes ago). And I value this space so much, that I seldom say something myself. I must feel its importance either to me or to others — otherwise I keep it for myself (let’s say that this is rather my ideal, I do deviate from that rule sometimes). I think that it is quite powerful in creating this atmosphere, so I assume that other participants are putting as much consideration in what they say as I do. It doesn’t actually matter if they do or not, it is just the framework through which I am perceiving others. 

Speaking Into Silence was and is a cultural reaction to cultural phenomena. It is a practice that Nina and I offer to everybody to implement into their lives, or variations of it. We believe that we should not feel enslaved by the culture we live in, but proactively find techniques and strategies to alter our culture. Speaking Into Silence is one attempt to do so, it is your recreational space for your mind. You get as much out of it as you put into it. Nothing more, nothing less. And that is a lot.

Speaking into Silence is part of the Cultural Protocols series. The series is designed as an open culture movement.  Everybody is invited to share, distribute, and develop any Cultural Protocol from the series for their own use. It was initiated by Thibault Schiemann and Nina Lund Westerdahl in 2017. The zine for instruction on how to run Speaking into Silence and more information about the series can be found on culturalprotocols.cc

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