‘Touch hunger’ in the time of COVID-19

A few months ago an independent curator, Maryam Ghoreishi, contacted me about her exhibition ‘Out of Sight, Beyond Touch‘ at the Center for Book Arts in New York scheduled for early summer. This was before the COVID-19 lockdown got serious, and the intention was to have the work of four Persian artists on show, with talks by the artists. And an interview with me. Of course, things didn’t work out that way, but other things transpired.

Let’s look at the artists and the titles of their work: Amina Ahmed with ‘Only Velvet Feels Like Velvet’ (2008), Bahman Mohammadi with ‘Protozoan-Self Portrait (2011-2014), Masoumeh Mohtadi’s work ‘Rhinoceros’ (2017), and Shirin Salehi with ‘Poems of Solitude’ (2018). Below is a rather striking image from Mohtadi. Of course, seen through the screen as static photographs these books cannot be touched, fingered, flicked between pages. There can be no flickery play of shapes and geometric forms, no progression of textures.

Masoumeh Mohtadi, Rhinoceros (2017)

So when Maryam got to interview me through a series of emails, the exhibition was by then postponed to Winter 2021. The full interview is available on the Center for Book Arts website and on Issuu:

The starting point of the interview was the absolute need for tactility when it comes to certain forms of art, and this exhibition in particular. Of course, because of the way that suddenly these artistic spaces were now off-limits, and the ability to reach out and physically touch the objects was no longer an option, it led to a discussion of the shortcomings of technological alternatives. If all art is experienced as a virtual exhibition through Google Arts & Culture, for example, it’s great for accessibility (groups of schoolchildren, those with physical or motor impairments who would otherwise not be able to travel easily). But for many artworks, and those curated for ‘Beyond Touch’ in particular, the lack of physicality and the inability to touch severely hampers the experience.

More than this, though, the COVID-19 lockdown has forced us into screen-eye bubbles, pockets of minimized sociality without the ability to touch or hug anyone who is not an immediate family member. There is a latent ‘touch hunger’ which emerges from lockdown with greater urgency than ever before, as I discuss in the full interview.

Fingers crossed that we can all experience the exhibition with our breathy and tactile bodies when it opens in 2021.


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