Touch. The first sense we encounter before we even enter the world. Author Han Kang reminds us in The White Book (2018), “The womb will have been such a snug fit, so the nurse binds the body tight, to mitigate the shock of its abrupt projection into limitlessness.” Touch is proximity, familiarity and trust. It is an affecting action, playing a fundamental role in our relations. We ease in the warmth of a loved one’s embrace, or flinch at the sensation of burning the roof of our mouth from a scolding meal. Touch is a mechanism of protection, a learned behaviour. We learn not to come into contact with certain objects, bodies, because they might harm us. A way in which borders are controlled is through touch.
On the surface, the relationship between art and touch may seem fraught. Within the Western tradition, art is not meant to be touched but looked at instead. If we consider that the female body has long been relegated to the status of object, but women and non-binary people are systemically subject to the violence of non-consensual touch, then women and non-binary people exploring touch within their creative practice is incredibly important. These artists return agency back into their bodies. Touch is power. Why else has female masturbation remained taboo in mainstream society for so long?
If we move beyond the concept of touch as patriarchal property, then we open up a multitude of interactions. Touch is not binary, between male gaze and the Other, but a series of infinite interactions. Our digital selves show us how touch operates on a molecular level, between atom, chip, pixel. We are thrust into this colliding web of particles, organisms, objects and matter. Touch is awareness, empathy, driven by an ecological desire to take care of the bodies around us.
To speak about touch is to give voice to a seemingly invisible, intangible concept, which has historically been denied serious investigation. This exhibition focuses on the tactile and sensual in the works of four women creatives, artist Miriam Poletti, artist Johanna Tagada, artist and writer Elisabeth Buchet-Deák, and designer Krisha Bejal.
Words by Maggie Kuzan