Self-Isolation Dinner: reflections by Anna Ciaunica

I have recently completed a short film, called Self-Isolation Dinner (2020), inspired by the London lockdown. It captures a dinner between a man and a woman trapped inside a screen. The man has all the “substance” while the woman, I call her Ophelia, is disembodied, mostly a face…a mind that imagines the pleasure of touch, smell and taste of the food that her dining companion tries to share, across the screen. 

As a way of creating dialogue around some of themes that emerged from this work, I have asked a a scientist, philosopher and anthropologist to write a short text about their own response to the work, informed by their own unique perspective.

Below are reflections by Dr Anna Ciaunica on my latest short film, Self-isolation Dinner, from her perspective of a philosopher and cognitive scientist interested in interdisciplinary approaches to embodied cognition.

Tereza Stehlikova, 2020

The Transparent Senses

How do we relate with our close ones when they are far, unreachable, and displayed to us through a flat screen designed to keep us safe, at distance? We see them, we talk to them, the information flow passes between us, courtesy of our advanced digital world. But how do we really keep in touch with them? Through our senses! 

Tereza Stehlikova’s short and magical film turns our eyes from the visual story of a flat face on a screen, to our proximal (un)shared sensory experiences. It is in an invitation to ‘see’ our invisible sensorium, the humble one, those silent senses that follow us like a shadow in our daily experiences and we tend to forget. Smell and touch. Touch and smell. Like the invisible basis of an iceberg, these proximal senses are brought at the surface, and through the eye of the Artist, they become visible, at last.

Sounds and colours serve here as a mere medium to bring touch and smell under the spotlight, in the centre of the story. In our times of Great Isolation, the silent and invisible senses speak to us about the importance of things that we can’t share anymore: hugs, odours, warmth, freshness. I’d like to call these the ‘transparent’ senses.

Transparency is an interesting and peculiar property of our experiences and can be understood as looking through a window. For example: a perfectly clear and transparent window glass or sliding door can give us the illusion of a direct access to a landscape. The landscape seems present and reachable, paradoxically because the glass of the window is transparent, invisible and taken for granted. It is there without us being aware of it. Now, imagine there is a crack in the pane of glass. We now become aware of the cracked window itself as a visible entity: we realize that there was something there without us being originally aware of its presence.

What the Great Isolation did to all of us, is to break the transparent window that silently and invisibly put us in direct touch with the world and others. But also, paradoxically, it reversed the iceberg upside down, and now we can see the invisible basis of our experiences: our proximal senses. Touch and smell. Smell and touch. Those silent and invisible senses that put us (literally) in touch with one another and with our world. Tereza beautifully captures here this enchanting tactile and olfactive atmosphere of underwater and earthy life, which is, after all, the roots of all forms of life.

Dr. Anna CIAUNICA is a philosopher and cognitive scientist interested in interdisciplinary approaches to embodied cognition based at Institute of Philosophy Porto, Portugal  &  Research Associate – Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience at the University College London

More about the short film, which is to be premiered online in the coming weeks:


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