Light Touch

April 10, 2008

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Still from Jean Cocteau’s Orphee In this famous scene, Jean Marais enters a new world by penetrating the surface of a mirror

It’s next time again.

If you come to this blog, you are undoubtedly intellectually curious and most likely enjoy the learning of a new word. Now maybe this is old news for you, but this word was new to me. The word of the day is HAPTIC. Any takers? Diane Davis Sikora, Interim Assistant Dean of Architecture at Kent State University, gets all the credit for turning me on to this new word and the writings of a new (for me) architectural genius who has done nothing short of changing my visually dominated life. This new guy is that good!

The guy is Juhani Pallasmaa, (no clue how to pronounce it) who teaches at the University of Helsinki. He writes about architecture with ravishing sensuality and “why-didn’t-I-ever-think-of-that-before?” insight. He even writes about architecture in Film! Be still my heart. You come here for new and fun ideas, don’t you? Just check this out!

Haptic means touch. It is from the Greek. ORIGIN late 19th cent.: from Greek haptikos ‘able to touch or grasp,’ from haptein ‘fasten.’

haptic |ˈhaptik| adjective technical – of, or relating to, the sense of touch, in particular relating to the perception and manipulation of objects using the senses of touch and proprioception.

Ahem, that proprioception up there? Sorry about that. Let me look it up for you, “stimuli that are produced and perceived within an organism.”

So what’s the big deal? Well, the big deal for a guy like me who is constantly aroused by visual stimulation, is that you can actually look at seeing as an extension of the sense of touch. WOW! I never considered this before. Your retina is essentially really sensitive skin. What touches it is light. I find this concept totally hypnotic. What about the camera? Photosensitivity is the way in which light touches the film or, these days, the digital sensors. This is the lightest touch imaginable, yet the power of the reactions then generated fuels all of the visual arts. Juhani explains that, “Touch is the mother of all the senses.” So where does this leave us pretty picture addicts?

All this, for him, comes down to how you experience a building – or to put it more poetically – space. He feels that architecture is too focused upon the visual image and not enough on the sense of touch. (Yes – I chuckle manically – you can blame TV again, it truly is the root of all evil.) Juhani calls this culture wide visual emphasis an “ocular bias.” I would say more than a bias, it is an addiction, and I am so guilty of this. As a filmmaker I have to be concerned about appearances but I’m learning often those appearances are really determined by textures (and how you light them). What he points to with this new word haptic, is the sense of touch, the materiality, the way a building quite literally feels. This opens up a brave new world of ideas which applies not only to architecture but to art and filmmaking and so many other things as well. One obvious and tactile example is petting the nose or the flank of an actual horse. Looking at a picture of a horse, or even seeing a movie of a horse is certainly not the same thing. I remember once Philip Johnson was telling me about one the new buildings he put up on the estate of his famous Glass House. As he spoke he patted the building just like he was patting the flank of a horse. As he did this he winked behind the big lenses of those famous black glasses. Unforgettable.

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Philip Johnson’s "Monsta", the Frank Gehry-inspired gatehouse to the Glass House estate

This word suggests a new way of looking at the world. I’m reminded of the movie Orphee by the filmmaker-poet Jean Cocteau. In this film, Orphee, played by Jean Marais, is shocked to see death and her henchmen enter and leave the underworld through mirrors. In the riveting shot pictured above, they enter this world by donning a pair of special gloves and touching the surface of the mirror with their fingertips. As they do so, the surface ripples like water and they pass through into another dimension. See me now like a stunned Jean Marais in front of a once solid mirror, magically gloved by the power of this new word to unlock something new and dreamlike and at the same time déjà vu familiar. (If you care, the shot was done by turning the camera on it’s side and having the actors touch the surface of a pool of mercury with rubber-gloved hands. The film is available at this link from Netflix as part of a Trilogy – you want Disc 2.)

Let me shut up and Juhani explain,

“Bernard Berenson suggested that when experiencing an artistic work we imagine a genuine physical encounter through ‘ideated sensations’. The most important of these Berenson called ‘tactile values’. In his view, the work of authentic art stimulates our ideated sensations of touch, and this stimulation is life-enhancing. Genuine architectural works, in my view, also evoke similar ideated tactile sensations which enhance our experience of ourselves.”

Imagine the solidity of the materials in any ancient Roman building and compare that in your mind to some modern glass and concrete skyscraper or a log cabin. The materials feel differently – even in your mind. I think this is what he means by “ideated tactile sensations.” Even in the museum world of “do not touch”, the tactile qualities of great works of art certainly touch you.

So how do you experience architecture? Well, of course you do experience the materials, you always have. You appreciate the sound of high heels on the marble or wooden floor. You’ve always admired the expert or unexpected choices of richly grained wood and patterned stone and intricately carved textures. You feel the cool breeze on your cheek in a cloistered colonnade. You reach out to touch the metal skin of a Frank Gehry building. You can’t help but flip the brass doorknocker. But what this new word does for us is gift us with a new way to articulate and name those feelings. You can admire a building’s hapacity. Just knowing the word makes one all the more sensitive to this idea and you find yourself really noticing these things. It has expanded the mental vocabulary of my experience of architecture. I’m dying to know what you think. To get you started on comments, give us some of the best examples of how you have experienced hapacity? What buildings and surfaces and materials come to mind? Think about a great room or space you have visited and tell us about it haptic terms. The entire exercise has a dream like quality. Add the concept of time into the nature of the materials (as with old wood or ancient stone) and you’ve got something really fascinating. This also applies to what we were looking at in the Blog from February, applying hapacity to art is yet another reason art in the flesh is so different than reproduction. This should be a great Blog discussion! Please post your ideas.

If you are like me, one of the problems of learning a new word is how the heck you remember it. I offer a suggestion. Increasing the appreciation of the haptic in your life is one way to heighten your happiness.

Until next time I remain your,

Tommaso

P.S.

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New film on the artist Christopher Pekoc. The Beauty of Damage

Also two films on Fashion produced by Telos will be the opening films at the 2008 Ohio Independent Film Festival on Monday, May 5th at 7PM at the Cleveland Public Theatre 6405 Detroit Ave. Cleveland 44102

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Theatre de la Mode is about a unique collection of Fashion dolls produced by the couture houses of Paris in 1946. The other film is about couture shoe designer Roger Vivier. Click on the links to see clips Check out the review/blog of this event from the Plain Dealer – “Anyone with a passion for design – whether in fashion, architecture or accessories, should make a point of finding a DVD of this film.”

15 Comments

  • tom,

    as always, you have made me stop and breathe and note how sensitive and articulate you are to your world. and how open to sharing that sensibility with your outreach community. i applaud your ever so looked forward to glimmers each month. please don’t stop doing this.

    when i started to really look at photographs way back when, my mentor, minor white, would have us look at a photo for a half an hour without saying a word, and then, once observed would have us attempt to communicate it’s interiority to another without ever using words. the rituals of listening to classical music have never been my true world, but yes we can look at a painting or photo for an extended period of time and reach a heightened state of awareness which makes each of us more aware of all the details of the multifaceted world that surrounds us.

    it’s all good, sometimes even the scratchy candy wrappers.

    your friend,

    abe

    Abe Frajndlich is a photographer’s photographer. He lives a visually-addicted life in NYC when he’s not opening gallery shows in Germany– TB

  • Susan Miller says:

    As a dancer and curator of choreographic works and the rehearsal director for said works over almost 2 decades, this conversation sounds all too familiar. Jeez… I thought everyone “saw/heard” this way. Only recently have I discovered that many people assume that they sense with their eyes and ears and noses and somehow forgot about skin. Touch is sort of taboo in our disembodied culture. Dance requires it. I somehow cannot escape it.

    I find myself talking with architects and since I am not schooled in their language I say things like,

    “Curiously I find myself recalling a design for the E9th and Euclid site that did have a glass tower where Breuer’s second tower would have been. It was completely unlike the Corna design. It was sleek, understated (not blue and had no balconies) and did not overwhelm the Breuer Tower. In my mind, it stood coolly by the masculine Breuer like a classy Audrey Hepburnesque 21st century mademoiselle or a shard of quartz leaning delicately against the tower. Am I dreaming? I recall thinking, “oh, that’s tasteful…””

    There’s all that Hepburn embodies in that “design” for me; her delicacy, her pale, clear skin, her eyes deep as pools – an invitation to wade in, the length of her neck and the curve of her jaw – her enigmatic smile.

    I realize also that I “sense” music in my organs and muscles and experience exhaustion sometimes when viewing a dance or work of art or when I listen to music. I have embodied the work and it is working within me.

    Back in 1979 I had the good fortune to hear the Cleveland Quartet play all of the middle and late Beethoven quartets as they prepared to record them. The sound of Don Weilersten’s breath in between bowings still rings in my ears. After each concert, I rushed from the hall feeling stripped bare as though the music had removed all socially appropriate coverings. I was embarrassed to be so naked before strangers as the lights came up. This experience changed my life and brought me to a new level of sensory perception.

    Years of study as to how to communicate most effectively the “meaning” of a dance work required long journeys into the realm of hapacity, kinesthesia and proprioception. Sometimes dancers and those involved in making dance works forget, as I did, that the majority of the population is not as schooled in these things as we are.

    Isn’t it true, for example, that architects built cathedrals with vaulted ceilings that are meant to prepare the body to receive the spirit via a kinesthetic (and automatic) lengthening of the spine? Perhaps that’s just the “sense” I get.

    Susan Miller describes herself understatedly as, “a generalist, a citizen, an activist, a community organizer. Susan founded the professional modern dance ensemble, The Repertory Project, in 1987 as an outgrowth of her work with dance students at Cleveland State University. Her blog can be found at http://realneo.us/blog/susan-miller –TB

  • Hi Tom–a subject close to my heart!

    I have a poem, “Wanting the Ten-Fingered Grasp of Things,” whose title I pirated from the writings of architect Louis Sullivan. I can’t remember where I came across this phrase, but I knew from the moment I read it I would use it as a title for a poem making an inquiry of touch. I love how Sullivan’s use of the word “wanting” suggests both deficit and desire, how the two seem to stoke, provoke each other.

    The question was for me, what forestalls or obstructs the ten-fingered grasp of things? Why are we left groping rather than grasping? And what role do eye, ear, tongue, and nose, competing and/or cooperating gatherers of sense data, play in this deferment of the haptic? How do we, after all, “get hold” of, or “lay hands on” a thing?

    Here is the poem:

    Wanting the Ten-Fingered Grasp of Things

    At this portion of the curve

    where quartz is ground, the ocean brokers

    broken wares. Energy is cursive, cold and beautiful.

    Mare. You have imagined here

    to yield up counting. Beyond the wide

    disquiet of the gulls, horizon is the love of bonfire.

    In the haptic scripture, all cups are running over.

    To think what blood cannot accommodate.

    To feel what it can.

    * * *

    While I was writing this poem, I was also thinking about the sculptor’s practice of tipping a jug of water over a work-in-progress to learn more about the contours, the “topography” of the figure. I became really interested in the word haptic around this time, which, though it does not share its origin with words like happen, haphazard, happy, happenstance, nonetheless does at least remind me of these Germanic words that root in the word, “hap” (chance, fortune).

    When I think of a sculptor tipping a pitcher the better to “read” the surface of the work, I get both “haptic” and “happenstance”: the water’s “touching” of the stone, and the “chance” routes it makes visible. And there I go privileging the visible! Why does the sculptor use water to “touch” the stone, in addition to using hands? Is this a way of objectifying touch? Of standing “outside” one’s own skin the better to feel it?

    In my poem I found myself very engaged with limits, with containments, and transgressions. Words like portion, counting, scripture, and accommodate are all doing the work of containment. And you might say the ocean is too, by virtue of its being “shored.” A bonfire was originally a fire in which bones were burned—a “bone-fire.” I was interested in rings, waves, and curves in this poem, but more so, I was interested in what escapes circumference: energy “conducted” or “systematized” versus energy that transcends quantification.

    I am an Emerson fiend. Here is the opening to his essay, “Circles”:

    “The eye is the first circle; the horizon which it forms is the second; and throughout nature this primary picture is repeated without end. It is the highest emblem in the cipher of the world. St. Augustine described the nature of God as a circle whose centre was everywhere and its circumference nowhere. We are all our lifetime reading the copious sense of this first of forms. One moral we have already deduced in considering the circular or compensatory character of every human action. Another analogy we shall now trace, that every action admits of being outdone. Our life is an apprenticeship to the truth that around every circle another can be drawn; that there is no end in nature, but every end is a beginning; that there is always another dawn risen on mid-noon, and under every deep a lower deep opens.”

    A bonfire is an engineered thing, a built thing that is stood around and managed. But a bonfire is also a very weird thing, a very unmanageable, un-graspable thing, especially in it original sense of cremation. Every action admits of being outdone. I think this idea is what led me to the line, “In the haptic scripture, all cups are running over. Though the sense of touch, perhaps more intensely than any other sense, roots us to place, there is in the very materiality of touch, something that is forever outside of our grasp, spilling over the limits of our bodies. Our own physiology attests to this. As Malcolm Weiss writes in Seeing Through the Dark: Blind and Sighted—a Vision Shared, most impulses (via axons, long, thread-like extensions of the nerve cell) travel faster than 100 miles per hour.

    Malcolm also supplies these facts: Braille dots are a tenth of an inch apart. To read Braille is to touch, on average, 2,000 to 2,500 dots a minute (roughly 100 words per minute). A new poem (Chicago Review 53:2/3) came out of my readings about Louis Braille and his invention of the raised dot system.

    A Boredom of Spirit

    leading to accident. A child among knives, mallets, and punches.

    The awl slips in his eye.

    Morning that comes like an altered ear, according to birds, according to coughs.

    World that goes on beyond the evident. Vibrant rocks

    at the edge of the brook. Radishes revolving in water.

    The butterfly duskiest

    nearest the body to keep the ovaries warm.

    Louis Braille. This is how the stars move. This is how to set

    the table. This is the smell

    of a heating oven. Listen and remember.

    Slant rains all day, and thunder. At organ practice cross winds audible

    through glass. Paris coming apart in bells.

    How then?

    Not reading rive on pins.

    Not soldiers nightwriting in the dark.

    The milk wagons wake him from a dream, a rope gang long enough

    to wander Paris.

    Louis Braille. Braille. The world goes on. Six dots

    to a cell,

    and passages of it raised above surface.

    * * *

    I do think it is important to explore the role of touch in our conceptualizations, our forms of expression, dwelling, relating. And I think to perform this exploration, we do need to “hobble” the eye first. The haptic is a subtle business, too often over-written with seeing.

    I have a friend who describes people according to their “textures.” And I had a student in Iowa, Albert Pulido, who once wrote, “the relations between tangibles are expressed in syntax.” Poetry bears this out again and again, that there is a musculature to language, a vast surface area, a shared topos, of nerve endings. See Gerard Manley Hopkins’ “The Windhover”:

    I CAUGHT this morning morning’s minion, king-

    dom of daylight’s dauphin, dapple-dawn-drawn Falcon, in his riding

    Of the rolling level underneath him steady air, and striding

    High there, how he rung upon the rein of a wimpling wing

    In his ecstasy! then off, off forth on swing,

    As a skate’s heel sweeps smooth on a bow-bend: the hurl and gliding

    Rebuffed the big wind. My heart in hiding

    Stirred for a bird,—the achieve of; the mastery of the thing!

    Brute beauty and valour and act, oh, air, pride, plume, here

    Buckle! AND the fire that breaks from thee then, a billion

    Times told lovelier, more dangerous, O my chevalier!

    No wonder of it: shéer plód makes plough down sillion

    Shine, and blue-bleak embers, ah my dear,

    Fall, gall themselves, and gash gold-vermillion.

    * * *

    If that’s not an expression of the paradox of haptic ecstasy—of disembodied embodiment—I don’t know what is! Our sense of touch: that which buckles/fastens us, and that which buckles/collapses and reforms us.

    ***

    Sarah Gridley is the Poet in Residence at Case Western Reserve University – TB

  • Petra Reski says:

    Yes, the sound of high heels on marble – reminds me the Palazzo della Giustizia at Palermo, I know, a very strange association (déformation professionelle), but in fact quite interesting for hapacity. And among the colonnades in front, there is always a cool breeze, even if it’s hot in Palermo. All the Palazzi della Giustizia, all the law courts are very, very fascist, even if they are built today, that is very strange. And the sound of high heels comes from the heels of the women working there – defending or bringing a charge against mafiabosses.

    Petra Reski is a prize winning novelist. She also writes regularly as a journalist and lives in Venice with her soon to be husband. – TB

  • Dear Tom,

    HAPTIC – this is a new word for me but your exploration of the depth of the meaning lead me to realise how light touching a building changes it’s form and how looking and seeing become an extension of the sense of touch. How irresistible is the back of a baby’s neck or the soft fur of one’s pet dog; it’s impossible once spotted not to touch. How too can a touch convey so much from one person to another when words are totally inadequate – in times of grief, sadness, to give encouragement, to share a moment of pleasure, pain or pure joy. Who can resist the touch of beautiful old polished wood or the cold sensation of marble. Thank you Tom for making me more aware of my senses.

    Paulette

    Paulette lives in Poole, UK and adores Venice. TB

  • Tamara Andruszkiewicz says:

    Dear Tom,

    there’s a first time for everything and this is my first reply to a blog.

    You write beautifully and even more importantly communicate and provoke with a profound sensitivity.

    I consider myself a tactile person first and foremost. And I would like to extend the reach of the word haptic to wines. when I started studying to become a professional sommelier I realized through my own personal “stopping to smell the roses, or lavender, or jasmine” that what I was truly affected by was the tactile impression of the wine. Tannins, freshness (acidity), sweetness, and “bubbles” come to mind, naturally. However the most compelling discovery for me was to feel the mineral salts (in both white and red wines) and the effect they had on my palate immeidately and a few moments later. This “tactile” appreciation of wines is the key to my presentations with my wine-tasting clients. The sensual appreication of wine is a given, but focusing on the tactile side is a door I try to open each time.

    I enjoyed reading the other comments as well before responding. I appreciated being brought back to my childhood with the “don’t touch” command pending over my head. What’s more I grew up to be enthusiastic about sewing in my late high-school and university days and touching fabric before even imagining what I would sew with it was more than just feeling its fibre content. it’s ability to drape, its fludity, its resistence were all documented in my fingertips. I still have to touch eveything in order to feel I have had a full experience and many times in these historic places that we visit I mentally have to sit on my hands to ensure my good behaviour.

    Thank you, Tom, for inviting me to join in this discussion.

    with most kind regards,

    Tamara

    Tamara lives in Venice and is the curator for the Canadian pavilion at the Venice Biennale of Art and also the Venice Biennale Architecture – TB

  • Harvey Buchanan says:

    The issue is the relationship between sight and touch. (and by extension between sight and the other senses ?). That relationship is essential in experiencing sculpture and certain kinds of expressionist painting where the eye must “touch” the paint (Cezanne, Pollack, etc) in order to interiorize what we see (emotionally) , not gaze from without (intellectually).. For Proust, the association was between taste (the madeleine) and sound (the striking of a train wheel) and the memories such associations conjured up. So references by analogy to his novel are appropriate.

    Tom’s striking image of Philip Johnson’ s “ Monsta” , (or the reproduction of a photograph of a building on his Connecticut estate – a whole string of visual displacements and ways of experiencing) brought up for me quite specific memories and associations with architectural sculpture. I direct a sculpture collection at Western Reserve University . Johnson was a native of Cleveland (his father was Professor of Law at the university) and , interested in the sculptural (and to the eye tactile) elements in his buildings , in 1995 I asked Johnson if he would like to do a sculpture for our collection . The site is located across the street from the Peter B Lewis Building, a large and important – and VERY sculptural – building designed by Frank Gehry at about the same time. So, two architectural sculptures, one an independent work of art, the other a functioning university learning facility facing each other.

    Johnson, leapt at the idea, telling me that he had “always wanted to do a sculpture”, and the result was “Turning Point.”. Philip had a sharp sense of public relations and liked to be in the avant-garde; by calling the elegant small reception center at his Connecticut estate the “ Monsta” – with its associations with hip-hop culture – he attracted attention and comment. On one of my visits he patted it (as he did for Tom) and grinning, likened the tactile sensation to the pleasure of caressing a horse. My point is that his “Turning Point” sculpture is a variation on his “Monsta” , and that in these works the distinction between architecture and sculpture as independent forms is blurred . Both are similar in scale and meant to be touched , caressed – literally felt by the eye. In much of modern building , as in that of the historic past, architecture is meant to be caressed visually.: it cannot be understood in any other way than through emotions evoked by touch . (For buildings too large to be easily seen as a visual whole – cathedrals, triumphal arches – sculpture that draws the eye was applied to the surface ) For me, looking and feeling extens in both directions across time: Gehry’s masterpiece in Bilbao evokes memories that go back to Borromini and even the Parthenon; and S. Ivo in Rome evokes memories of the “Monsta” and the museum in Bilbao. Proustian associative experiences.

    Haptic is a word or concept that has many -maybe too many – possibilities:

    — There is a music group in Chicago called “HAPTIC’ that creates and records “ dense, drone-based works that can range from rigorous minimalism to violent, carefully directed chaos” To hear what they do, check their web site : http://www.myspace.com.haptic – They also have a Blog if you want to interact.

    — There is a scholarly publication , The Electronic Journal of Haptic Research” ( in its 4th year ).A representative article has this title: “The Common Pattern of Blood Perfusion in the Fingernail Bed Subjects to Fingertip Touch Force and Finger Posture”

    — In the New York Times (April 17) there is an article abut a new grand piano that connects to the net and can download music and play it like a player piano. Who or what is touching the keys? What is the origin of the touch that creates the sound? What does “touch” mean across so many displacements?

    Harvey Buchanan is the former Dean of Arts & Sciences at Case Western Reserve University. He is also the founder of the Case Western Reserve University/Cleveland Museum of Art joint program in art history – TB

  • Penelope Buchanan says:

    Dear Tom,

    This month’s blog blew me away! You have surely hit

    your stride in in communicating the depth of your own

    observations and analysis of the mysterious effect of

    great art and architecture on the human sensory system

    through the clarity and enthusiasm of your writing. I

    also enjoyed the section on the Pekoc documentary and

    can’t wait to see the finished product. What fun!

    XX Penny

    Penelope Buchanan is an author and former staff member in the Dept. of Education of the Cleveland Museum of Art –TB

  • Bruce Leimsidor says:

    Tom,

    Interesting, stimulating post. It’s strange how fleeting our recognition of our haptic identity is. In Western Art, Berenson’s tactile values weren’t there much before Leonardo and were essentially gone by the XVIII century. Titian, Rubens and Bernini are as much about tactile sensation as they are about seeing, but even Boucher’s and Courbet’s nudes are essentially visual, and even intellectual experiences. If you have any question about this, just go and look at Rubens’s portrait of his second wife “Das Pelzschen” in Vienna. By the XX century, our tactile identity is pretty much gone from painting; perhaps it survived in photography, to a certain extent and, as you point out, through architecture. The ancients had a better grip on this than we seem to have. And, during much of their history, the Chinese, Japanese, and certainly the Cambodians through the Angkorian period.

    Bruce Leimsidor is professor of European immigration law at Ca’ Foscari University, in Venice – TB

  • Juan Bastos says:

    Dear Tom,

    After reading your most interesting piece, I started remembering my childhood recollections. One of the first things one hears as a small child is the nervous “don’t touch that”, followed by a crashing sound, or a mother’s sigh after realizing that the lovely fabric of the sofa has been covered with hands that had a bar of chocolate earlier..A child’s curiosity starts with exploring surfaces and objects with those eager little fingers from an early start. My favorite toy was LEGO, and the surfaces of the plastic pieces, while I pressed them one by one were I guess the first attempts to not only build a small project, but also to feel it as well. As an artist, my hands are often dirty, especially when I am using pastels…(I could easily imagine my mother saying “don’t touch that”, if she would see me in my studio today). My fingertips are sensitive in blending the powdery textures, while I am covered in blues, reds and browns. Once I see the final product, let’s say of a portrait, I have the satisfaction as an artist, that the “don’t touch rule” of a Museum doesn’t apply to me, and I caress happily my work. However, visiting the Getty Museum, a masterpiece of the architect Richard Meier, one is greeted in the lobby with a most amazing small model of the whole complex. The metal display is at the reach of your hands, but one quickly realizes that there are indentations in Braille. How clever of the creators of this Museum to not only give the blind visitor a sense of the breeze at the top of the hill, but also to display a model of the entire place encouraging anyone to touch it. As adults, we have been taught not to explore with our hands certain surfaces, however, it’s important to keep the child alive. Haptic! What a great new word to learn.

    Juan Bastos is an immensely talented painter of portraits and works in Los Angeles – TB

  • In a sense (pun intended), hapacity is the mind-body connection. It is through the haptic senses that we process everything to the brain. It is fun to think of each sense as a form of “touch”.

    One of my favorite art exhibits ever, was called “Please Touch”. It was a beautiful array of stark white plaster casts of human faces all displayed at hand level to actually touch. I stood in awe touching the jaw of an Australian Bushman, while next to me, my four year old son stared at a mask of Brooke Shields. “Mommy, look at this lady.” I asked him how he knew it was a lady (thinking he might notice the contrasts of my plaster fellow’s fine face). He proudly reached out to the blank wall below Brooke’s mask, cupped his hands in a circular motion and said, “Because she has boobies!” There was nothing there but a white wall! And where did he learn that word and hand motion? Ok, it was dumb of me to ask! Touching, huh?

    Jane is my brilliant little sister, teaches Children’s Theatre and Nia and serves “on countless community boards promoting humanities.” – TB

  • Elizabeth Rhodes writes:

    I thought of you when I was in NYC last week and went to the Hearst building. Do you know it? It is located at 300 W 57th. The building is the only green office space in Manhattan. The architect was Lord Norman Foster. The original building of six stories was built in 1926 and now on top of that space is a glass tower that rises into the air. The original structure had eight allegorical statues, representing music, comedy, tragedy, art, industry, sport, sciences and printing. There are no vertical steel beams in the skyscraper’s exterior – a first in North America. In its finished state it uses about a fourth less energy than the average space the same size. I forget all the trivia I heard about it but it was impressive to “see” and to “feel” what we saw. Go to http://hearst.com/hearsttower/index.htm and see the video, I think you will like it.

    Elizabeth Rhodes is the Director of the Fashion School at Kent State University – TB

  • Anne Gridley says:

    Anne Gridley writes:

    Was interested in “haptic”. This winter I learned of “haptonomie” (fr.) from our son. His wife was pregnant with their son, and the French government paid for her to go to an expert in “haptonomie”. Once there, the expert showed John how to touch his wife’s abdomen. Each time, the baby came towards where he had placed his hand. When the expert did it, the baby did not move to her. Initially skeptic, John was amazed at this repeatable experiment. I think this practice started in Holland and is popular in the UK as well. It doesn’t harm the unborn child and is supposed to strengthen the bond between father and child and make for a easier delivery and calmer baby. Oscar Timothée Crandon Gridley arrived on March 26th, 2008.

    Anne Gridley is a graduate of Radcliffe, a new grandmother and an accomplished nature photographer – TB

  • Jurgen Faust says:

    Hi Tom,

    it is an interesting task to expand on your haptic exploration, and as a person who had been always focused on the visual sense, I was getting sometimes into the discussion of the haptic. Probably the best if we include that there is always a synergy between the senses, the haptic sense effects the sight and the hearing, I think we can also touch things we hear. Therefore I conceptualize the haptic also in what we see in what we hear etc. Architecture in that sense is frozen music, still know in the harmonic theories and research, there is a relationship between everything.

    In that sense your exploration is inspiring to think again about what was already known, and therefore put in some knowledge.

    Jurgen Faust is the Chief Academic Officer of the Instituto Europeo di Design. He is based in Milan. Check out the truly fabulous slide show of the Instituto’s many projects here: http://gallery.ied.it/contextual.php?searchQuery=all-all-all-all&language=eng – TB

  • Jill Snyder says:

    Dear Tommaso,

    Ahem, indeed! What a wonderful topic! Your comments brought me back to 1996, the year I organized an exhibition titled In the Flesh, featuring artists, including Kiki Smith, Lesley Dill, Glenn Ligon, Byron Kim, among others, who take as their subject the body’s skin. You inspired me to reread my essay and I found so many parallels to your insights. I also am proud to claim that I used the word haptic! Here’s one passage that is relevant:

    Painterly surfaces become sensate structures that impart emotional as well as visceral qualities. Sventlana Alpers, writing on the subject of blindness in Rembrandt’s work, observes: “Blindness is not invoked with reference to a higher spiritual insight, but to call attention to the activity of touch in our experience of the world. Rembrandt represents touch as the embodiment of sight…And, it is relevant to recall that the analogy between sight and touch had its technical counterpart in Rembrandt’s handling of paint. His exploitation of the reflection of natural light off high relief to intensify highlights and cast shadows unifies the visible and the substantial.”

    Another relevant passage in the essay explores the fascinating connection between cave paintings and the body. Cave walls, argues philosopher Maxine Sheets-Johnstone, uniquely housed as they were inside cavernous interiors, extended the basic corporeal experience of inside and outside. Breathing, dreaming, speaking, excreting, all arise from within, and due to their inexplicable nature — (to the cave man that is!) — induced wonderment. To draw on a cave wall was not only to connect the bodily concept of insideness to the outside world, but was also to enact its extraordinary corporeal powers. In essense, caves — e.g. primal architecture — become analogues for corporeal experience. Pretty cool.

    Thanks also for promoting our Talalay Series. I second your remarks — the topics are quite timely and relevant.

    Fondly,

    Jill

    Thank you for your inspiring comments

    Jill Snyder is the Director of MOCA – the Museum of Contemporary Art Cleveland –TB

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