The world’s population is increasing. There are 7.7 billion people on the planet that we can connect to, yet more and more people are feeling lonely and isolated. This plague is universal. According to Statistics Sweden (SCB) one in six people in Sweden do not have a close friend to confide in. In China, a tech company has launched a product called the iPal, a robotic playmate the size of a 5 year old for young children who lack companions – it tells jokes, teaches math and keeps track of the child using facial recognition technology, which allows parents to remotely monitor their children with their mobiles. In Japan, homes for the elderly use robotic seals that react to touch to keep the residents company when their relatives don’t visit. In Los Angeles, a company called The People Walker provides a companion to join you for a walk, for $7 a mile – due to popular demand, they have expanded to 16 locations and are considering launching an Uber-style app for a global market. In the UK, a 38 year old woman was discovered in her home, lying on the sofa, with the tv on and unopened Christmas presents on the floor. She had died 3 years ago, but no one had noticed. Social isolation has reached such epidemic proportions that in the UK this year, a minister of loneliness was appointed.
In a recently published meta analysis, researchers have shown that loneliness is as damaging for health as smoking. Another recent study has shown that social isolation triggers the same part of the brain as physical pain. We have evolved over thousands of years to pull our hands away from the source of burning heat, yet loneliness and social isolation for many is an ongoing source of pain.
The stigma around social isolation is so powerful that psychological evaluations performed to assess it purposely avoid mentioning the word ‘lonely’ to its subjects. Breaking the cycle of social isolation means breaking the taboo about loneliness.
In this allegorical series from 2018, I explore the tension and otherness of being an outsider, and the conflicting nature of identity and external expectations. The images are primarily shot in zoos and aquariums in the cities I have lived, inspired by my experience since childhood of frequent relocation, trying to assimilate to new cultures, again and again. I find my feelings of isolation, claustrophobia and otherness reflected in these confined animals. I presented this series in an artist talk at Spegla fotofestivalen in Norrköping Sweden as part of the group exhibition CFF Process.