Touch Me exhibition

V&A 2005 Touch Me exhibition

“We are bombarded daily by advertising, information and entertainment images. But are we passively looking, rather than really seeing? Touch actively engages us. It is immediate and involving; it creates a physical connection between ourselves, the world around us and each other.

By touching we back up impressions we receive through sight and hearing. In a moment, however, touch can also become overwhelmingly present – an insect bite or blister from a tight shoe can be difficult to ignore.

Part of the way we sense our place in the world is through proprioception, our ability to tell the position and movement of our body. Tests such as the Phantom Hand experiment, show that sending different visual and tactile signals to the body can easily confuse us – we begin to lose our sense of where our body is in space.

Similarly, we can sometimes ‘feel’ strong sensations felt by another person – for example if we see someone fall and scrape their knee.

When we see objects, we expect them to feel a certain way – from the softness of wool to the cool of steel or porcelain. Many designers in the show use familiar objects and materials with a twist.

From Jurgen Bey’s Kokon Double Chair to Gitta Gschwendtner and Fiona Davidson’s Fruit Cushion, the materials used create disconnections between look and feel. It is only by touching that the truth is revealed.”

The double chair is made ‘using the so-called spider’s web technique, desolate furniture is wrapped with synthetic fibres creating a smooth, elastic skin.’ Droog

Touch is immediate and intimate. Unlike vision, touching another person is a two-way process. You feel yourself touching, and that person feels your touch in turn.

Fashion designers often play with these pleasurable sensations, enjoying the smoothness of silk and satin on the skin, or tight lacing in corsetry or footwear.

We reinforce close bonds with hugs and hand holding. At the same time touch is culturally and socially proscribed. Physical contact exists within clearly defined boundaries – from meeting a stranger to using cutlery rather than your fingers.

Jenny Tillotson and Noriko Yasuda explore ideas about healing and comfort through touch in their work. Yoshi Saito’s Hug Chair encloses us in a soft ‘womb’, while Naomi Filmer’s Suck N Smile mouthpieces cover the mouth. Do these pleasures evoke the comfort and security we experienced as infants?

Of all the senses, touch is perhaps the least understood. What makes the touch of a close friend so pleasurable when exactly the same touch delivered by a stranger produces no positive response? Why do things feel different if we shut our eyes or block our ears? Why can’t we tickle ourselves?

Two experiments were conducted one involving the oral size illusion. This is the fact that things in the mouth feel larger than they do when felt by hand.

Another area asks people to distinguish between various vibrational ‘textures’ that might be used to create more communicative products. how great a range of such vibrations might our touch sense be able to detect? And how easy will it be for us to learn what these different vibrations mean?


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