Reading the Room

Alexandra Davenport

Research output: Non-textual formWeb publication/site


Adapting to the online space in response to the COVID-19 global pandemic, ‘Reading the Room’ is a movement-research project exploring the video call as a site of performance.

The project title refers to the colloquial expression ‘read the room’; the practice of understanding thoughts and emotions of people in the same place. This phrase became popular in the 1990s when it was championed by the sales and marketing industries as a technique to improve leadership and presentation skills. This practice is usually aided by the ability to interpret facial expressions, body language, and tone of voice. Having spent the majority of 2020 working, socialising, and even exercising via video conferencing software, I was interested in how body language and social cues had adapted to this digital realm.

The webcam often compromises non-verbal cues such as facial expressions and hand gestures, as well as disembodying the voice from the body when the camera freezes. In these spaces of communication, we often miss many of the physical conversational cues such as subtle eye movements, vocal intonations and shifts in weight which tell us someone wants to or is about to speak. Meeting in these spaces is our way to connect remotely, but ultimately control is given over to the apparatuses and their technological glitches.

Together but apart, ‘Reading the Room’ utilised Zoom, a video conferencing software originally developed for businesses, as its platform. Letting go of any expectation to replicate physical ‘in-person’ experiences ‘Reading the Room’ embraced the unique qualities of this digital space, using both the human body and technological apparatus to explore movement mediated via the webcam or camera phone.

Consisting of 6 sessions over 5 months, the webpage offers a selection of documentation from this period.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 2021


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