Touching Feeling derives its title from the book of the same name by Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick in which she challenges theorists to consider that every piece of literature - as well as every performance, every artwork, and in fact, every inspiration - is embedded within a time, texture and temperature. Prefiguring much of the current interest in affect, her discussion of performance and pedagogy is a call to non-dualistic critical thought.
Unlike vision, states Sedgwick, the sense of touch cannot be enhanced. We have dozens of tools that augment sight: eyeglasses, telescopes, microscopes, and periscopes effectively diminish the distance between eye and object. But with the sense of touch there is no such equivalent-the distance between skin and object remains ever constant. For objects, texture is touch's counterpart, conveying whether a thing was laminated, extruded, pressed, or fondled; and whether I can touch it, climb on it, or hold it in my hand.1
Cutting against the tendency to view art as a simple transaction between cognitive construct and visual representation, the works in Touching Feeling insist on texture as a way to interrupt our tendency to skim the surface of experience. Tripping us up with their bumps, skids, cracks and crannies, they ask us to go beyond a superficial engagement with our world.
In Jennifer Sullivan's Fall Collection (2009), artists ape the standard fashion show by staging an outlandish spectacle of their own. Unlike typical fashion shows, meant to inspire longing for an elusive object, these runway soirees are clearly ragtag and homespun; they are all about inclusion. Like Sullivan's other work that references popular modes of self-representation such as music videos and talk shows, here she mines a universal desire to be seen, valued, and heard.
Irvin Morazan's giant Mayan-inspired headdresses are both sculptural forms and the foils for his interactive performances. Layered with natural materials like loofah, salt, cornhusk and cotton, these talismanic objects become ominous when animated. In a new series of photographs such as Man wearing a headdress and chewing gum at the same time (2009), Morazan mines the unlikely textural equivalence between his fleshy fabricated objects and found images from his childhood home of El Salvador.
In Kymia Nawabi's ongoing mythological series, The Nincompoop and The Superior Super Sense Stalkers, the artist conveys the common apprehension about the unwieldy and sometimes vulgar nature of our minds and bodies. Her delicately rendered stalkers are an ever-growing, ever-grasping army of disembodied mouths, limbs, feet and hands. Doggedly they purse the Nincompoop as the exaggerated and distorted manifestations of her own anxieties.
Unlike most portraits, which seek to show their subject in the best light, Jayson Keeling's video Solo (2008) frustrates any sense of the body beautiful. Set to the plaintive Prince song of the same title, the video is a claustrophobic meditation on identity; lingering too long and adhering too closely, the camera's proximity brings every pore and hair into view. In Much the same way John Coplans's photographs offer an unflinching investigation of his own aging flesh, Solo speaks to the intimate and ineffable relationship we have with our bodies and ourselves.
1Sedgwick, Eve Kosofsky. Touching Feeling: Affect, Pedagogy, Performativity. Duke University Press, 2003, 15-16.
Erin Sickler is an independent curator and writer based in New York City. Previously, she has worked with institutions including the Queens Museum of Art and P.S.1 Contemporary Art Center. Recent and forthcoming exhibitions include: Queens International 4 (Queens Museum of Art, Queens, NY 2009), Hanging Out at No Rio (ABC No Rio and Cuchifritos Gallery, New York, NY, 2009), and Apologies and Further Concessions (BRIC Rotunda Gallery, Brooklyn, NY, 2010). Her current project, Think Tank, is a roving curatorial initiative that expands the art of social practice in the service of creating sustainable and ethical solutions to pressing social, economic, and aesthetic problems. Beginning in January 2010, Think Tank will run out of Trade School (Grand Opening, NY, NY, 2010), partnering with the Amsterdam-based design collective Droog to design a series of art and food-related events, interventions, and public installations. Sickler is Gallery and Collections Manager for 601Artspace and the New York correspondent for the Swiss art magazine Kunst Bulletin.