Being welcomed into the arms of a stranger, to lay a moment and just rest together, is a strange and unique experience.

Winding my way into the alleys behind Arts House, I find an assistant waiting by a blue box truck, and a lounge room laid out in front of the back doors. Shoes and bag left behind, I enter the soft darkness of Rest Area. In the delicately dim light S.J. Norman can be made out, asleep on the bed. I am hesitant, too polite to throw myself down immediately. It feels strange to perch on the mattress, half watching someone sleep, and before long Norman’s hand reaches out, calling me silently to join in the slumber.

We fit easily into the grooves of each other’s bodies. The only communication we share is touch, and breath. The softness of the cocoon, the little world inside the box, envelopes quickly. For Norman, who is performing this show six times a day as part of the Festival of Live Art, this is practice, an ongoing experiment that began in 2007. But for me, it is learning: a lesson in relaxing with a stranger who accepts me. The pillows, the calm, and the deep breathing beckon an almost subconscious state, transporting us away from the bustle of the city. The deep meditative power of the breath is a guide, loosening each muscle that is unsure of what it means to be laying here.

In such stillness, a single twitch of a finger, or twist of an elbow, feels like a canyon opening, the earth shifting, our world rearranging. It is curious how quickly this world becomes ‘natural’, so to speak. When the doors yawn open and I am invited to return to my belongings, I am aware that I would happily stay longer. It begs the question of how long such an experiment could continue, and how many ways one can share intimacy with a stranger in such tranquillity. Norman developed Rest Area as a means to express and explore loneliness, yet when I open the book of reflections of all those strangers who have rested here before me, I find countless messages of thanks and celebration. It is a subtle exchange between all of us strangers: we are given the time to rest in the comfort of another body’s embrace, and in exchange, we give Norman the gift of gratitude and growth.

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