Production of sculptures Monáx by Schaalwerk, designed by Siba Sahabi, photography by Chris Rijksen

Imagining the intangible

Loneliness occupies a practically invisible place in our society. Although many people suffer from it, being honest about it is taboo. From an evolutionary point of view, man was ‘created’ to connect with others. We are social animals: belonging to a group used to be a person’s most important life insurance policy. Only as a member of a close-knit community could you survive such dangers as famine, wild animals, and arch-enemies. Being cast out was more or less a death sentence. Over the past centuries, our society has changed beyond recognition. In Western society we now strive for individualism and personal independence, yet connection with others is what makes us truly happy and fulfils us. We still want to occupy a permanent place in one or more communities. Loneliness — the fear of isolation — is an emotion that makes many people deeply unhappy.

Production of sculptures Monáx by Schaalwerk, photography by Chris Rijksen

During my research it struck me that loneliness is rarely personified, unlike death, for example. Think of the Grim Reaper, who bears similarities to Father Time. Or Thanatos in Greek mythology, and his Roman counterpart Morta.

Why is it that we say that loneliness can take us by surprise without giving this uninvited ‘guest’ a face? For my project Monáx — which means ‘alone’ in Ancient Greek — I worked with an interdisciplinary team to find answers to such questions as:

  • Where does the emotion of loneliness come from? And what is the function of this emotion?
  • In what way does loneliness occupy a place in our society?
  • How has the way we deal with loneliness changed over time?
  • How is loneliness portrayed in the world of art, literature, and film?
  • And does it help to give loneliness a face, thus making it easier to discuss this feeling with people around you?

This website shows the results of our research. By involving various disciplines such as philosophy, psychology, art, literature, and film, loneliness is situated in a broad socio-cultural context.

The Monáx project is a triptych consisting of this website, a podcast, and three sculptures that will be shown in a public space in Utrecht in the winter of 2020/21.

Siba Sahabi — editor in chief

Siba Sahabi, photography by Chris Rijksen


The Monáx project was made possible by RAUM. This Utrecht-based organisation will be exhibiting three sculptures and the podcast in the exhibition called ‘Living Apart Together’ on the Berlijnplein in Leidsche Rijn in Utrecht from 13 November 2020 to 7 March 2021.

Three articles for the research project, written by Daniël Rovers, Karin Wolfs, and Nicole Montagne, have been produced with the support of the Dutch Embassy in Brussels. The three articles were first published via the Dutch-Flemish website in October and November 2020.

My special thanks go to psychologist and writer Marcelino Lopez, who guided the Mónax project from start to finish and wrote three extensive articles. His feedback was very valuable and decisive for the process. In addition to the authors already mentioned, Dirk van Weelden contributed to the research from the standpoint of his discipline of philosophy.

Chris Rijksen

I would like to thank documentary maker Chris Rijksen for his creativity, expertise, and commitment. He captured the research results in sound and created the podcast series called Monáx. Bert Jonker, Pieter Coupé, and Bob van Toor proofread all the texts, and Leston Buell expertly translated them into English.

And finally, I am tremendously grateful for the following people for sharing their personal stories and experiences on loneliness: Hanan, Dirk, Zuster Maria Confidens, Tessa, Casper, Ruben, Lino, Jaap, Bert en Robin.

photography by Chris Rijksen