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The Unofficial Department of Handshakes

January 12 @ 10:00 am - 4:00 pm

Welcome to the Unofficial Department of Handshakes.

Founded by artists Alison Pebworth and Hannah Ireland,The Unofficial Department of Handshakes explores the handshake as one of the few cross-cultural and internationally recognized forms of touch between strangers. The handshake can be simple and direct or complex and coded. Serving as a bridge between people, the handshake can be a casual greeting, a congratulatory gesture, or a mutual agreement.Using City Hall as the ultimate intersection for citywide public negotiations, Ireland and Pebworth present a playful and improvisational take on a city department.

Occupying the information kiosk at the Van Ness entrance of San Francisco City Hall, The Unofficial Department of Handshakes will observe, collect, and analyze the handshakes shared under the city’s gilded dome. The artists will be on site every Friday from 10am-4pm to collect data, facilitating playful interactions with the public to investigate contemporary etiquette around different meanings and style of handshakes. Members of the public are encouraged to participate in their research in various ways from offering their handshake for observation to sharing personal stories about the handshake. Do you remember your first handshake? Were you taught how to give a ‘proper’ handshake? What are some of the cultural variations on the handshake? Do you have an exclusive handshake you share with a friend or club?

In addition to being stationed in the kiosk, Pebworth and Ireland will also conduct project research throughout City Hall by way of a mobile research station. The mobile unit will serve as a backdrop for documenting handshake styles, a site to conduct surveys and promote interaction among strangers, as well as provide ways for visitors to engage in the project when the artists are not present. Simply head over to the Unofficial Department of Handshakes at the information kiosk at the Van Ness entrance to learn how to get involved!

This project is the first collaboration between Ireland and Pebworth and is planned in conjunction with the current exhibitions on view in the SFAC Main Gallery at 401 Van Ness. Regular gallery hours are Tuesday-Saturday from 11am-6pm.



January 12
10:00 am - 4:00 pm


San Francisco Arts Commission Galleries