Tenderness Between Strangers: Intimate exchanges on banlieue wastelands

Sarah Harper


This case-study is of a socially-engaged performance project, Tendresse Radicale (2019 – 2021) in Villetaneuse, a multi-cultural suburb of Paris, where kindness does not tend to be visible, public, or demonstrated. Through gifts and unsolicited gestures the project introduces a fragile, bumbling presence into an urban wilderness perceived locally as threatening. Seeking and enjoying reciprocity, the project observes the degrees of refusal and awkwardness that unsolicited acts of kindness towards strangers provokes. Through rendering tangible an inherently invisible relational practice, the article argues the importance and potential radicality of such gestures to open up genuine spaces of encounter.


Community, care, tenderness, place-making, socially-engaged, urban art, refusal

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