Exhibition ‘Prière de Toucher’ (Please touch) – Basel, Switzerland

This exhibition is dedicated to the tactile sensation in art. In the context of my personal project I was looking forward to getting possibly new insights on how to visualise the tactile sensation into a piece of art.

Venue is the Tinguely museum in Basel (12 February – 16 May 2016). The museum is the home museum of Jean Tinguely (1925 – 1991), a swiss painter and sculptor, well know for his dynamic sculptures  made out of salvage. They are called kinetic art, in the context of DADA, the anti movement originated from Zurich, Switzerland. Even automatic drawing machines are on show. Some machines are touchable and even climbable.

Exhibition information available from: http://www.tinguely.ch/en/ausstellungen_events/ausstellungen/2016/Priere-de-toucher.html 

The show was framed between two videos showing the importance of the sense of touch especially for blind people. One showing 6 blind people touching an elephant and recording their verbal response to it (from Javier Téllez). The other showing how blind people making a larger painting with full of bodily awareness, either on the ground or at the wall (from Artur Mijewski).  The background of the exhibition poster is showing the skin of an elephant in close up view.


Question the exhibition wants to answer are: How do we perceive tactile art? What happens is our skin plays the dominant role in experiencing art? Can art appeal to the sense of touch even without direct physical contact? Can tactile experiences be described and translated into images?

Tactile sensation was formerly considered as an inferior sense (visual and auditory higher). It is the most proximal sense in direct physical contact (mainly finger, hands, but also our skin). I think this is also true for drawing – a very intimate and direct experience of sensing the media and the support. That’s the reason why I chose this subject for my personal project. Perhaps there are new approaches I can learn from?

One fascinating aspect in the exhibition was the area where one could touch blinded four sculptures from ancient Greece (replicas though) to have a sense of the change in aestetics in greece art, moving from a rather symbolic towards a more realistic figurative statue. To rely completely on ones tactile sensation without seeing made this experience quite unique, in a humble way.

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As in the year of Dada centennial, Marcel Duchamp was the artist who gave the name for this exhibition: Prière de toucher (Please touch). Key work and main image for the show was Duchamp’s work from 1947 of a foam-rubber breast on black velvet on board. This was considered to be the cover for the catalogue (special edition of 999) of a surrealist exhibition 1947 in Paris. Perhaps it was already at that time an approach to bring the experience of tactile sensation to the viewer. I think it triggers also a recalled sensation or a wish of in that work. So it it meant rather conceptually than literally. There were other works by Duchamp, who proclaimed the sense of touch as the fourth dimension. The act of love was considered by him as the sublimation of the sense of touch. This is taken up by Pipilotti Rist (b. 1962, Swiss video artist) with her bright and colourful at times very intimate video takes showing with macroscopic detail the emotions of a sexual intercourse combined with fantasy images.

There were other works from art history till contemporary approaches. Like the more allegorical approach in dutch 17th century with showing symbols for touch.

According to Mzerleau-Ponty, the master of phenomenology,  ‘touching can enable the experiencing of inter corporeality‘.

The exhibition demonstrated also other aspect of touch, like a connection between a spiritual and physical touch like when St Thomas put his hands on Jesus Christ after resurrection to believe that it was indeed Him.

Extensive works covering painting, sculptures, video, photographs. They are depicting emotions, feelings, feel of being touched, skin bruises. Or they use technology to visualise the act of touching in a contra dictionary approach when a bind robot touches a child (Louis-Philippe Demer). Asking the question of the human dimension of touch.


Overall, the exhibition tried to explore ‘touch’ and tactile sensation in various aspects. For me it made clear that the sense of touch can be manifold. Either through direct physical contact (like the blind people touching the elephant) or a more of a triggered sensation in the viewer when one is carving word in her skin (video)- feeling the pain. It can be through stimulating sense by electrical heat radiation (installation by Jan van Munter), or by recalled sensations watching a sexual intercourse (Pipilotti Rist). More from art history work as allegories of sense of touch, or showing figurative work emphasising importance of human touch (Jan Saenredam).

My take away: I can see that perhaps a combination of different visualisations (2d and 3D) could trigger various forms of ‘sense of touch’. At least much more than merely touching with ones fingers. So much more to discover and express  with art beyond the visual sense (looking at).


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