A comment I often get when people see my work is that they feel they want to touch it. For me this is very gratifying - not that this is necessarily an aim when making a piece - but I certainy like that viewers are drawn in and another sense is calling to be sated, that of touch. I have this as a strong impulse myself - invariably wanting to touch sculpture I like, or even paintings or drawings too - as if it will make me better connected with it, and maybe the maker, it strengthens my discovery. The energy from touching sculpture is palpable - for me it is an overpowering need.
For the most part we are all taught not to touch art we see in galleries and at exhibitions and I do understand some of the arguments and reasons for this, so I was interested to see that Michael Dean's latest exhibiton Government at the Henry Moore Institute in Leeds is directly about the experience of touch. They have embraced this idea before in the wonderful Revelations for the Hands exhibition they ran a few years ago, all about the tactile quality of certain sculpture.
Michael shows sculptures that are either the perfect size to be carried or quote their surrounding architecture where they are then to be found lurking, propped against gallery walls.Made from cast concrete, the surfaces are veined and ridged, offering invitations to be touched. Tactility is an essential sculptural quality for Dean - he wishes us to first 'touch with the eyes, and then allow ourselves to touch with the hand'.
The concrete gallery floor has been covered with a thick, wool, wall-to-wall carpet, becoming something to touch, with the new surface changing the visual and sonic experience of the spaces. Instead of standing, the Institute's Information Assistants sit on the floor. The door handles at the entrance to the galleries have been recast as four sculptures, these flat, grey, concrete bodies leave themselves no choice but to touched, their patina changing as the raw, unsealed surfaces pick up the traces of each person's hand. Dean emphasises the notion that what the viewer (and for these tactile works ‘feeler’) brings to the work is as valid as the artist’s.
There is also an interesting view on it all by Phil Kirby at The Culture Vulture.