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A creative ethnography of loneliness
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The loneliness room is a real or imagined space where people experience loneliness as a site or location of aching despair, or conversely, as a source of regeneration or reincarnation. The Loneliness Room explores not simply the devastating isolation of chronic loneliness but the social, creative, and experiential possibilities of the lonely imagination which is suggested sits naturally within all of us. To get inside or to better understand what these lonely rooms are, the book draws upon creative participatory ethnography. Its pages are culled and curated from the creative stories of ordinary people who were asked to use the idea of the loneliness room to submit sound and music pieces, video and essay films, photography, poetry, paintings, and drawings, alongside questionnaire responses, that captured their personal interpretation of what they felt were the threads and fibres of loneliness. The Loneliness Room also works on the premise that people get their shared understanding of loneliness through cultural and artistic forms, particularly screen art media, and that they often express what their understanding of loneliness is through the telling of stories and embodied descriptions that are in lockstep with these creative mediums. When seeking to express how they feel about loneliness, ordinary people often refer to artists and art forms whose work swims in lonely exchanges. The artistic sounds and images of loneliness become constitutive of, and foundational to, the embodied experience of being lonely. The audiovisual representations of loneliness, then, and one’s understanding and experience of it, are essentially entangled, as The Loneliness Room will also go on to explore and evidence.

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A creative ethnography of loneliness
Sean Redmond

In this introductory chapter, I define loneliness and outline the book’s ethnographic design and methodologies. The chapter draws upon both the instances of loneliness as it is found in art and culture, and on the creative artwork submitted by its participants.

in The loneliness room
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The loneliness in photography
Sean Redmond

Photography has been one of the main art forms that has powerfully captured loneliness and its associated forms. Since photography’s inception, photographers and photographic movements have taken the still lens to cities, suburbs, to the rural and the wild. These spatial locators have been connected to age, ethnicity, and social class so that loneliness is tied to becoming youth and to isolated aging; to diaspora alienation; and to marginalisation and separation due to gender, sexuality, and class. Further, photographers have captured the spontaneity of loneliness: the way it can suddenly emerge out of the cracks of an unplanned encounter. The loneliness of photography stems also from its ontological past-ness and to the way it enacts a form of emulsified reminiscentia since ‘memories’ eternally hold the photograph in a slow dance of regret and not-forgetting. Nonetheless, the beauty of loneliness and its power to translate pain as an affective assemblage rise up in photography’s spatiality and temporality, and in its haptic sense. The photograph doesn’t just represent loneliness but embodies it. In this chapter, then, I take the reader through the different ways that photographers and the project’s participants have captured loneliness, drawing attention to the ‘rooms’ that frame their melancholy.

in The loneliness room
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Loneliness in cinema
Sean Redmond

There is a long history of exploring loneliness in cinema: it is found in genre filmmaking such as the melodrama and science fiction, in social realism and modernism, and in the work of auteurs such as Wong Kar-wai and Lynsey Ramsey. One can periodise loneliness in cinema, as Kolker has done when looking at the failed masculinity of urban dwellers found in 1970s American cinema, and films such as Taxi Driver. Loneliness is also aesthetic, crafted into the high and low, inner and outer, spatial metaphors of city films, and is given sonic agency, since loneliness can be heard as a cinematic scream in the dead of the night. There are age and gender markers to the way loneliness is played out and signified, where loss is carried through aging transformations. As the book’s participants observe, cinema itself is a loneliness room: people go there to experience isolation, to be alone, and the theatre of cinema calls forth the expressions of privatised experience. In this chapter I chart the way loneliness is fictionalised in contemporary cinema, drawing upon such films as Under the Skin (Glazer, 2004), Her (Jonze, 2013), Red Road (Arnold, 2006), Ghost World (2001, Zwigoff), and Lost in Translation (Coppola, 2003). I also explore the lonely video work supplied by the participants, seeing and hearing cinematic ‘sirens’ between them.

in The loneliness room
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Documenting loneliness
Sean Redmond

In this chapter I discuss the way the screen documentary takes the moving camera to the street, to directly engage with social reality and to shine a light on those realities so that translation and transformation of loneliness are seen to occur. Documenting loneliness is a political weapon. The documentary is also an affective assemblage, inviting viewers to experience the everyday reality it is filming – as it moves across the lives of ordinary individuals, it activates the lonely senses. British social realism, cinéma vérité, and direct cinema are examples of documentary forms which have captured the conditions of loneliness and isolation, whether it be slum dwellers, inmates, or subcultures. In contemporary terms, the digital video diary and the compressed short video documentary have enabled non-professionals to record their own stories and share and stream them. Documenting loneliness has become a form of creative self-expression and an attempt to connect isolated individuals. It is also connected to DIY celebrity culture: where the instances of fame make people feel lonelier as they crave it for themselves. Ordinary people ‘document’ their loneliness room, which has ultimately become the anguished condition of those seeking renown, fame, visibility.

in The loneliness room
The sounds of loneliness
Sean Redmond

In this chapter I explore the way sound is mobilised to capture and communicate what it feels like to be lonely. Engaging centrally with popular music, the sound design of screen media, and the conversational tone of podcasts, I look at the way the auditory values of loneliness mark people’s lives and powerfully shape the form and content of art forms. As our participants attest, popular songs very often carry narrative stories about loneliness, and they can be connected to rituals and events where in hearing ‘that song’ a lonely memory is elicited. These lonely songs are often encountered in spaces or places which come to embody and carry forth the melodies of loneliness, becoming auditory loneliness rooms. Individual biographies emerge when sounding loneliness, but this exists alongside the cultural ‘chatter’ that is found across aural forms, such as the radio and the podcast, in which experts and laypeople give their advice, and bare their lonely souls.

in The loneliness room
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Writing loneliness in the post- digital age
Sean Redmond

In one sense we have never been more connected: numerous digital interfaces enable us to connect in real time over vast spaces (Baruah, 2012). Facebook, TikTok, Snapchat, and Instagram have become engines for connection and belonging, allowing people to share personal videos, photographs, memes, and forms of creative bricolage. Of course, empirical research suggests that social media increases one’s loneliness and feelings of anxiety and depression, particularly for young people (Woods and Scott, 2016). Bedroom Instagrammers, influencers, and Facebookers find that it often becomes their shrine to loneliness. In this chapter I explore this oxymoron – social loneliness – looking at the way these communal digital interfaces operate. The chapter will both narrate the empirical evidence on the relationship between social media and will textually analyse a range of sites where loneliness has been curated. It will draw upon the writings that participants submitted, revealing in their confessions the way loneliness gripped and released them.

in The loneliness room
Sean Redmond

In this chapter I explore the way that everyday forms of creativity responded to the first wave of the coronavirus pandemic. I argue that these creative responses did two things. First, they demonstrated the rich agency that ordinary people had in shaping and sharing their experience of lonely isolation. Second, through the creative works generated and circulated, a critical lens was placed on the way that the pandemic carried forward the inequalities inherent in modern systems of the governance of loneliness. The chapter is divided into two main sections: the first looks at a range of creative works made by ordinary people to reconnect them to the social world. The second section looks at the creative works that were explicitly politicised and activist in nature, turning loneliness into a political project.

in The loneliness room
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If nobody speaks of loneliness rooms
Sean Redmond

In the conclusion, I draw together the diverse themes and threads of the book, situating it within my own creative practice. I look to celebrate the ordinariness of loneliness while recognising the unequal forms and formations that it materialises from. I reflect on the journey of the project, on the rooms it visited, and the stories that it was gifted. I conclude by demonstrating the power of creative practice to better understand the contours of loneliness.

in The loneliness room