We use eye contact strategically these days. In certain situations, it demonstrates confidence and power. However, when riding public transportation or passing strangers on the street, eye contact can be misconstrued as insanity or intimidation; we avoid it in those situations. Science tells us, though, that four minutes of prolonged eye contact can incur a boost of oxytocin, a chemical that decreases stress and instills positive emotions such as trust and empathy. Philly-based artists Danielle Gatto and Makoto Hirano apply this psychological find to their installation at the Haas Biergarten, FOUR MINUTE BOOTH. Gatto and Hirano pair you with a stranger, and you and the stranger sit in the white fabric booth for four minutes—no talking or touching, and never severing eye contact. Awkward smiling and laughing is inevitable, but the four minutes zip by as your mind attunes to the zen of the experience.
According to Hirano, being paired with a stranger helps strengthen that oxytocin rush. It also makes the experience more meaningful. FOUR MINUTE BOOTH dares you to step outside your comfort zone and confront one of society’s most commonly-held, and most absurd, fears: connection through vulnerability. Gatto joked with participants about the therapeutic value of her and Hirano’s piece, suggesting people who are willing to make eye contact with stressed-out strangers should wear buttons with the number “4” as an identifier throughout their day-to-day. She’s so right—it’s grounding, cathartic, and way cheaper than normal therapy. In fact, FOUR MINUTE BOOTH is free, and it’s centrally located at FringeArts headquarters. You can grab a drink in the Biergarten or get dinner at La Peg, then get a genuine connection in the booth.
[Haas Biergarten, FringeArts, 140 North Columbus Boulevard] September 19-24, 2016, fringearts.com/4-minute-booth.