instructions to touch

Okay, this the proposition of how to organise tactility in close/open at a distance.

This post a first exploration of various modalities:

  1. audio only
  2. a/v with black screen
  3. a/v with illustrative image (at the moment: of the object instructed)
  4. a list of written instructions (these are also possible in different forms: as image, as handwritten list.

1. audio only

2. a/v with black screen

3. a/v with illustrative image

4. a list of written instructions

Instructions to touch #1

Go to the walnut tree outside. Find a walnut shell that has been picked open by a crow. Take it indoors, wash it, let it dry. After a few days, open your sketchbook and place the shell on an empty page, fold the previous page over, hold it taut. Take first a maker pen (in a soft pink), then a thick and soft graphite stick and trace the opening of the shell. If you want to, also trace the edges and folds further down until the whole shape is transferred. Remove the shell and close the sketchbook. Have a look a few days later at how the opening has folded into the sketchbook.

Instructions to touch #2

Go to the walnut tree outside. Find a walnut shell that has been picked open by a crow. Take it indoors, wash it, let it dry. After a few days, open your sketchbook and place the shell on an empty page, fold the previous page over, hold it taut. Take your mechanical pencil and trace the opening of the shell. Adjust the pressure so that the paper doesn’t tear entirely. If you want to, also trace the edges and folds further down until the whole shape is transferred. Remove the shell and close the sketchbook. Have a look a few days later at how the opening has folded into the sketchbook.

Instructions to touch #3

Go to the spare room and look out a red-coloured sock yarn. Pack it in your bag, put on your shoes and jacket, make sure you have also headphones and house key and walk up to the transformer. Pick up one of the frozen fir cones and hold it in one hand. In the other, take the yarn ball and begin to wrap the cone from the middle outwards. Adjust the pressure, perhaps you can place the yarn ball in your pocket and it will simply release the yarn. When you come upon a break in the yarn, place the cone down and pick a new one. Repeat. Take the cones inside, place on your desk and watch over the next days how the warmth encourages the cone to open and strain against the yarn.

Instructions to touch #4

On your walks, look out for sweet wrappers. Pick up any you find and place in your sketchbook.

Instructions to touch #5

Look out for some replacement stones. The first ones you find may be large, almost as big as you can comfortably hold in one hand. Begin to wrap with the sock yarn, exploring how you can turn the yarn and/or the stone. You may also place the stone on the ground to ease the wrapping. After, once your yarn has finished, place the stone back to where you took it from.

Instructions to touch #6

Look out for some replacement stones, ones that are smooth and you can bind together. Along the field with the empty seed heads, make your choice and lift one from the ground, it may be half-buried. You may find it’s an almost perfect heart shape, it may not require any other stone. Place it in the bag you brought with you and then in your pocket. Once home, forget about it for a couple of days, then place on your window sill. Think about a precious wrapping for this singular stone.

Thoughts to consider further:

  • it is surprisingly easy to retrace an object by way of instructions to self.
  • what is the role between instruction and narrative
  • while the audio works well I find the illustrative image is the weakest: it is too definite and it forecloses what that object can become if someone else does indeed follow the instruction
  • the written instructions work also well; possibly as image rather than list, what does handwritten add here (other than decoration or hand of the artist?)

Approaching my sketchbook in this way and translating the sketchbook into something experiental, transferable in this manner seems a considerable step forward — it addresses the falling away of the participation, engagement with a self-assembly portfolio at the heart of the site specific installation. It also proposes a form of contact, intimacy and tactility both in terms of relational form and in what the materiality of the work here, in my hand and/or sketchbook can become when it travels over digital distance to reinstantiate in your hand, sketchbook, elsewhere and at a different time.

Herz/Stein and Drei Nuesse as handling collections?

In the process of pulling together my different works for BoW 4 I am trying to explore scale and reach within the work, notably what role touch and tactility can have for this body of work (principally, but also practically under contact restrictions and all digital submissions).

Coming up to March 2020 I explored a series of objects, notably: stones, stones with seaweed, stones bound with yarn and elastic as tactile objects, the objects leading out of a the idea of Herz/Stein, heart/stone, a heart emoji placed in online conversations, the idea of it closing down, marking both territory and belonging.

This exploration continued at a distance and in tactility: a series of workshops over spring and summer had me exploring the stone, yarn, elastic combination as well as the relationship dynamic that sparked the initial enquiry and how some of this had been also moving through the staircase site before lockdown.

When I moved to Germany I almost packed the stones and yarn, I almost had it sent in three parcels. Then I didn’t. Now I realise I can use other yarn and other stones to continue if there is more to continue.

The work around the walnut tree and the opened shells mirrored the objecthood, if not at all the relational charge, and I set up Drei Nuesse as a similar close-range, intimate process of exploration of materiality that can be held, handled.

The concept or desire for the work always found expression as a handling collection, a term a fellow student introduced me too a couple of years ago with her work (and the binding, rope, yarn also found an early spark in her work).

How does a handling collection work at a distance? Also: to what extent is a handling collection an over-determined concept residing in museum practices (something my work isn’t interested in)?

This post is a summary post to help me articulate these ideas a little further in anticipation of a conversation with said fellow student to explore a little further what resolution for these near-range, tactile works of mine may exist.

Some of my questions at this moment are then:

What is in the handling collection as term? 

  • too determined by museum practices?
  • what happens in digital context for this?
  • can I invite to diy and then everyone has something to handle?
  • handling and/or touching (the former designates a subject/object relationship, the latter more equal, undefined)
  • sketchbook as handling item?
  • unique objects/ easy multiples

Role of screen/stage for the tactile objects?

  • Questions of scale
  • Figure/ground
  • Peripheral vision and centre stage
  • Satellite objects of work
  • Possibility of a wallpaper as a different concept from screen, stage, constellation

Distance/proximity as enquiry: handle/ touch at a distance?

  • Where does tactility move in a pandemic?
  • Digital touch and haptics
  • Sound as intimacy

This post is accompanied by the previous one where I collate the experiments around both series, both posts to serve as basis for a series of discussions

touch and intimacy at a distance

close/open comes to my mind, the title I gave this site before it was a site and a body of work.

I am spending time with the small tactile objects of this work, both Herz/Stein and Drei Nuesse, turning them left and right, exploring well-tested processes and some other tangents to see what form of a tactility, touch and thus closeness I can achieve with them. First in my own hand (not so difficult), then possibly in yours (far more difficult).

Considering this an exhibition with audience participation always introduces the distance of a gallery site, however unconventional. Contact restrictions and sites closed add to this. These limitations notwithstanding, my work has also always worked with closeness and intimacy at a distance, often through social media posts, through audio messages and through touch screens. The viewing and listening experiences often one of a single person and their device. The sound and the handheld device the means for such proximity.

Yet, I remain uncertain if this will do as sensory means for the kind of objects that both Herz/Stein and Drei Nuesse are: stones, paper, yarn, shells. Their touch and the sensation of their weight, shape and surface in one’s hand does not work through a device. Can I narrate these?

The padlets are attempts to bridge such gap and to provide a visual narration through the objects. It’s an effort of translation, transfer, and yet the outcome holds in a number of ways.

In any case, in advance of a series of discussion around my tactile objects, touch and handling, here two sets of images by way of collating what objects there are:

First, the experiments for the walnut shells (cyanotype exposure of the inside; bleach+tone with walnut ink; wrapping; staining with ink inside the shell; tracing the opening with ink and graphite).

The objects created with the cyanotype, bleach and tone are delicate strip, the paper almost undone through the iterative working. They are delicate objects, perhaps suited to a light box but also not quite for handling.

Is the handling just a fantasy? Is there just a trace of the touch contained in these?

A similar gallery for the Herz/Stein processes is this one (I left them in Glasgow, had the original stones and yarn and elastic almost sent three times, today I take a new ball of red sock wool to the edge of the wood and begin to wrap stone, stick and cone):

instruction as relational engagement at a distance?

Since Drawing 2 I have been experimenting with instructions, both to self and to others. There are a few that were sketchbooks ideas during L3. At the start of the first lockdown in April 2020 I attended two tutored OCA meetings of the London group with Bryan Eccleshall. Between session 1 and 2, I devised this padlet comment (copied in full), the discussion that followed invited me to consider these four points not merely as instructions to myself (or summary of my own practice) but to turn these into instructions to others. I didn’t do that at that point but now while compiling works for BoW 4 I want to place this here as note and potential series to include.

Distance… pets 2020 was what my filing system made of my conceptual musings at the start of lockdown 1, it’s worth keeping

Since the first meeting (of Keeping the Momentum) I begin to explore what are forms of enquiry for me now, tonight I find 4:


1. Drawing/ encounters in socially distanced times. I meet online, offline, accidentally or kind of so a few people. I take note, often in camera form, sometimes in FB posts, none of them yet folded onwards like what I did with the drawing/events in my BoW but they are similar kind of things, only the parameter has changed. I collect.

2. I explore the role and form of my walks. Previously they were commutes which were so familiar that they often mistake themselves for drifts. These have disappeared and with them my creative thinking/writing space. I no longer find the latter at the end of the former. Instead, I watch and observe the city and its pavement. I also begin to think of some interventions of my own. I have all that chalk pastel in one of my cupboard.

3. The space between my laptop camera and myself. It comes into focus as it feels extensive. It is hidden from view, yet when I am quite distracted it is visible to others. I begin to explore it.

4. There is possibly a fourth which is the computer camera and screengrab as photographic medium.

portfolio at a distance

In preparation of submitting 4 of BoW I have continued to review and assemble the works that I have. The biggest challenge for this lies in the distance: temporal distance to the material assembled and a simple spatial distance: sketchbooks #1-8 are out of reach since I moved to Germany in September. The current situation with haphazard postal routes between here and Brexitland has exacerbated this situation.

The plan a year ago was to create a loose sheet portfolio of photocopied collage assemblages, the act of compilation by the viewer (while ascending the staircase) was key to the work, along with the matter that each sheet was a simple copy, in a pile of numerous other copies.

Since early Summer, since it became clear that autumn would not mean the staircase would again become accessible I have explored alternatives to this process-based performative work and what the impulse to ‘lift the sketchbooks off their pages’ could look like in the context of contact restrictions and inaccessibility.

I will write some more about the options that I explored in earnest in autumn (individual portfolios with unique pages, already discussed in this earlier post, a single book, a printable zine, a singular body of work).

Each physical manifestation however had the challenge that the tactility and the self-propelled engagement with the work remained out of reach, and thus the work itself would revert back to a gallery piece, out of reach, and I am not interested in such a work for the portfolio.

For the past three weeks I sat down to begin to assemble single sheets out of the materials and the absence of half my sketchbooks became more salient: how can I create tactile objects when the source material itself is absent?

If this question of reach, engagement and tactility is so central to this work, what would a version for this current time look like?

I made in August a restless lockdown loop padlet, a simple wall, not the usual spacious and contemplative canvasses I had used before lockdown. The simple, almost breathless format of the padlet provided a similar sense of immediacy and repetition to the sense of the lockdown walks and fitted well.

(I find padlet as a presentation surface quite functional, as space for actual work, as a final form it is lacking, e.g. the inability to properly position and frame video work is a huge problem).

I collated and then edited all records I had of the missing sketchbooks in photos and then proceeded to upload 260+ of these to a padlet. They are in chronological order in the sense that I uploaded in batches of 8-15 images, the order than finalised with the upload sequence so somewhat variable inside each batch but the batches themselves are in order.

It is a portfolio, it gives a good sense of the explorations and themes, it coheres too as a series. It is intimate, notably on the phone app, two columns, its excessive too, you can look closer, there is visual detail and some text too. It is tactile on the phone screen and alludes to its own textures and yet it also remains at a distance that is distributed.

I want to let this settle for a bit but have the sense that for this resolution of a body of work in 2021 it will hold alongside the other objects.

Here is the padlet (click on photo to open):

Drei Nüsse (autumn works #3)

I would like to consider this as practice and as a handling collection.
I find first one, then in the end over thirty walnut shells picked open by crows, either on the tree or on the ground. I collect them and become curious of the inside: some are deaf, the crows leave them, the others are emptied. I wash and dry them and begin to trace the opening. Then the inside.
Eventually I print the inside in a futile process, bleach the prints and stain them with walnut liquid we made earlier. 
There are other processes.
The resulting paper is at once brittle and sturdy.
Last year my dad showed me how to click walnuts out of their green shells.
As practice, Drei Nüsse relates to the Herz/Stein binding processes of earlier this year. Small tactile objects are found, related to each other and explored. They take the place of absent touch.
The blue is merely resonance.

I made a padlet about this WIP:

Larchwood (working title) (autumn works #2)

An expanding series of cyanotypes around a larchwood (and adjacent) at the village edge. It is simply presented: the prints arranged in columns, each present a printing event, from left, oldest, to right, newest.

I am intending to keep adding to this series over the coming weeks, to perhaps 50-60 prints (just under A3 in size) in total.

I have also photographed each print and created a digital site to mirror the paper print arrangement. The site is here (click on the image to go to the padlet):

Walnut Tree of Touch (autumn works #1)

approx. 40 double-sided Moleskine Cahier XL blank sheets, printed as cyanotype over the month of October on a mature walnut tree.

this current WIP state is laid out in part on the floor (viewed from above). I envisage this work to be sewn together as columns (possibly even numbered), space inbetween, simple white or grey thread to hang from a ceiling in a room. (organised as a plane, of 8×5 or 5×8 sheets, possibly some stabilisation across the rows too).

(To the side are two pressed sets of walnut leaf prints exposed under glass, these are not part of this work)