Title:
Scrolling Intimacies: A Library Walk, Adelle Mills
Author:
Sofia Skobeleva (Sid Akhmed)
Date:
23.04.21

In the public foyer of a library, imagine a person standing in the middle of the space, holding a phone and wearing headphones. Now picture them walking in-between two pillars – one, a relic of the recent past, the other, signalling the technological advancement of the future. In that moment, they are the interruption and the bridge between these two temporalities.

Adelle Mills, Scrolling Intimacies: A Library Walk, 2019-2021, audio tour, 25m10s, Monash University Caulfield Library, Melbourne, scrollingintimaci.es. Photo: Sigurvin Pálsson. Courtesy of the artist.

Scrolling Intimacies: A Library Walk (2019-2021) (Scrolling Intimacies) by Adelle Mills is an audio-assisted tour of the Monash University Caulfield Library, accompanied by a video installation: “A Chorus of Instant Messengers” (for Terentius Neo, his “wife” and Sappho) (2019-2021). The work forms the practical outcome of a doctorate within the Fine Art Faculty of Monash University’s School of Art, Architecture and Design which “foregrounds the instant message as its primary focus” and explores the parameters of intimacy produced through digital platforms.1

Adelle Mills, Scrolling Intimacies: A Library Walk, 2019-2021, audio tour, 25m10s, Monash University Caulfield Library, Melbourne, scrollingintimaci.es. Photo: Sigurvin Pálsson. Courtesy of the artist.

The work begins in the foyer of the library, where two large information screens signpost the work. The tour spans the four floors of the building until it reaches its conclusion in the stacks of the 700s. Scrolling Intimacies is site-specific. Mills posits the library as a place for connection, social exchange and learning. A place away from home and work, the library is commonly understood as a “third place” that brings communities together and creates opportunities for informal engagement or deliberation in cafés or non-silent areas.2 In Scrolling Intimacies, Mills builds on Ray Oldenburg’s idea of the “third place” to establish the library as a “networked fourth place”.3

Adelle Mills, Scrolling Intimacies: A Library Walk, 2019-2021, audio tour, 25m10s, Monash University Caulfield Library, Melbourne, scrollingintimaci.es. Photo: Sigurvin Pálsson. Courtesy of the artist.

The term “third place” was developed by Oldenburg in his book ‘The Great Good Place’ (1989) which emerged in the context of a problem of space in the automobile American suburbs.4 Oldenburg considered such places to perform an important role in a democratic society by giving room to socio-political conversations and information sharing.5 While many scholars consider digital spaces as “virtual third places”, Oldenburg’s theory poses obvious challenges to this view.

Oldenburg characterised a “third place” by its capacity to connect local community, act as a social leveller and be accessible for all.6 However, digital platforms do not meet these criteria. Firstly, they defy geographic location and are designed to connect people across the globe, time and even language. Secondly, digital platforms do not allow users to escape their social status or personal characteristics and remain inaccessible to many. In spite of this, the force of online spaces cannot be underestimated, as it is a key mode of communication and connection today.

Adelle Mills, Scrolling Intimacies: A Library Walk, 2019-2021, audio tour, 25m10s, Monash University Caulfield Library, Melbourne, scrollingintimaci.es. Photo: Sigurvin Pálsson. Courtesy of the artist.

Adelle Mills, Scrolling Intimacies: A Library Walk, 2019-2021, audio tour, 25m10s, Monash University Caulfield Library, Melbourne, scrollingintimaci.es. Photo: Sigurvin Pálsson. Courtesy of the artist.

In Scrolling Intimacies, Mills focuses on instant messaging as a source of digital intimacy and incorporates its presence as a texture within the library. Scrolling Intimacies begins with the audience. The accompanying website, designed by Public Office, offers an access point into the work, where the text and audio components make up the tour. The audience is invited to follow the artist’s prompts. In this way, Mills creates a sonic and physical experience that transforms the library into an invisible playground where multiple digital intimacies are created. By sending the audience off on a solitary tour, Mills plays on the paradox of digital communication, which simultaneously connects and distances its participants. In Scrolling Intimacies, technology acts as a gateway into another reality, questioning the bifurcation of “real” and “digital” presence. In this space, Mills concludes: “the more technology, the more likely you are”.7

Adelle Mills, Scrolling Intimacies: A Library Walk, 2019-2021, audio tour, 25m10s, Monash University Caulfield Library, Melbourne, scrollingintimaci.es. Photo: Sigurvin Pálsson. Courtesy of the artist.

I think about the time when I realised that producing content online could satisfy the need to produce works in real life; how it toyed with my sense of presence. But who says that online presence is not being present? For example, Amalia Ulman gained recognition through staging a five-month performance work on Instagram. Now, her presence is both followed and existing in 139,000 lives.

In this way, Scrolling Intimacies invites its audience to walk through the library’s walls, as its physical structures fade in place of a new life given to it by the tour. Like a speakeasy, the tour is invisible to the rest of the visitors. The chaos of the audience marching through the rooms poses the risk of inconveniencing others. Yet this discomfort points to the capacity of technology (phone and headphones in this instance) to give legitimacy to the illegitimate presence of the audience’s body in the library. As such, being immersed in the screen allows for an escape from the physical reality that we face when we are looking up.

Throughout the tour, the audience is prompted to adopt various vantage points – both observing and imagining being observed. A key component of Mills' research behind Scrolling Intimacies is Anne Carsons’ theory of “triangulation”.8 Mills uses this theory to establish the way that desire is created between phones and people. As part of the work, the audience is invited to pause in front of the library’s information screens, where “A Chorus of Instant Messengers” (for Terentius Neo, his “wife” and Sappho) is displayed. The videos of recorded text threads demonstrate how distance and longing are capable of creating intimacy and connection. Coupled with the audio, the videos highlight the unique capacity of digital messaging to create emotional proximity.

Adelle Mills, "A Chorus of Instant Messengers" (for Terentius Neo, his “wife” and Sappho), video, 2019-2021, Monash University Caulfield Library, Melbourne. Photo: Sigurvin Pálsson. Courtesy of the artist.

On the night of my 26th birthday, I received a number of voice messages from an overseas friend, wishing me a happy birthday. She described the seagulls in the little sea town where she was staying and told me how much she missed me. These messages defied place, time and the years that we have spent apart. These messages, on my phone, felt more intimate to me than the marking of my birthday occurring in the next room.

Adelle Mills, Scrolling Intimacies: A Library Walk, 2019-2021, audio tour, 25m10s, Monash University Caulfield Library, Melbourne, scrollingintimaci.es. Photo: Sigurvin Pálsson. Courtesy of the artist.

Scrolling Intimacies is a nuanced exploration of the relationship between intimacy, desire and digital communication. As the audience tours the library, they feel at once connected and isolated from the voice in their headphones. After all, the tour is a secret – this reality is only shared between the audience and the artist. Mills prompts us to interact with many aspects of the library space, both within and out, to evoke sonic and bodily reflections. A proximity is similarly created between the library’s visitors and the audience.

Overall, this work is a timely reflection on our current state of affairs, where we resort to digital communication in order to stay connected, especially in times of social distancing. Scrolling Intimacies demystifies the alternative digital realities where intimacy is created and explores our shared lust for technological connection in the face of spatial distance. By placing the audience at the heart of the tour, Mills successfully deconstructs the ways that intimacy is borne from a longing for proximity and immersion in others’ subjectivity.

In line with Performance Review’s commitment to reflexive practice, this piece was edited on 23.04.21 to acknowledge the written research underpinning Scrolling Intimacies.

  1. Adelle Mills, “Writing like a poet: Social intimacy of the instant message”, accessed 2 April 2021.

  2. Ray Oldenburg, The Great Good Place (New York: Paragon House, 1989), 1-384.

  3. Adelle Mills, “Research Abstract”, Scrolling Intimacies: A Library Walk, 21 April 2021.

  4. Charles Soukup, “Computer-mediated communication as a virtual third place: building Oldernburg’s great good places on the world wide web,” New Media and Society 8, no.3: 421-440, 422.

  5. Charles Soukup, “Computer-mediated communication as a virtual third place: building Oldernburg’s great good places on the world wide web,” 422.

  6. Charles Soukup, “Computer-mediated communication as a virtual third place: building Oldernburg’s great good places on the world wide web,” 421-440.

  7. Adelle Mills, Scrolling Intimacies: A Library Walk, 2019-2021, audio tour, 25m10s, Monash University Caulfield Library, Melbourne.

  8. Mills, “Research Abstract”, Anne Carson, Eros of the Bittersweet: An Essay (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1986), 1-202.

Sofia Skobeleva (Sid Akhmed) is a writer. She holds a BA in Art History and a Juris Doctor from the University of Melbourne. Her interests include interdisciplinary art practices, including dance and performance art. In the distant past, she was a co-editor of a feminist art zine titled 'Cuntaloupe'.

Performance Review acknowledges the Wurundjeri people of the Kulin Nation as the traditional custodians of the land on which we operate. We pay our respects to their Elders; past, present and emerging and recognise that sovereignty was never ceded.