Terry Flaxton’s The Sum of Hands was created in 2008 as a video work that explores empathy. Through the work he asks: “How do you get 50 people to collaborate in a very tight and intimate space? How can they be spontaneous yet entirely connected? How can people stop thinking about what they’re doing and relax and simply let their bodies know?”
For the work, the artist gathered 50 people together and asked them simply to introduce their hands on a table and then remove them. Various versions were tried but the result was stilted until the artist realised that the performers needed to be distracted, yet involved at the same time. Performers needed distraction in much the same way that a cinema audience engages in suspension of disbelief. The artist realised they required the performers to sing or hum so that they were aware of their technical directions, yet free in their expression of those directions. The sound, though important, can be muted, as the images express an important though different truth when viewed alone.
The work is a part of a larger project, In Other People’s Skins, which was inspired by Da Vinci’s The Last Supper.