Touch has been brought into sharp focus during the pandemic as we've been advised to frequently wash our hands, socially distance and avoid touching anything outside our own homes. At the outset of the outbreak, just before lockdown, I spent a sunny day at Yorkshire Sculpture Park with my collaborator Helen Stratford, planning the installation of new work, now postponed till who knows when. During the visit, we were yet again struck by the sign by one of the sculptures, as we were already aware that our relationship with touch was about to change.
The sense of touch plays a very important part in my practice because until now I have more often than not made work that asks audiences to get physically involved- to touch (with care) pawns in games or slides on a light table. I recently watched the wonderfully tender Our Iranian Lockdown about living in isolation in Teheran. The film's depiction of the way the skin of our hands has toughened from the repetitive hand washing really struck a cord with me as did the ways in which the film makers devote attention to small domestic rituals and focus on their relationship. Artworks are often all about human connection and throughout the last months while working on the project I have also grappled with finding ways to respond to what is happening around us without abandoning my commitment to creating relational work. I admired other artists' work such as Alisa Oleva's Unlocked Walks No 4: 'touching with your eyes'*, which through the use of social media invited participants to virtually walk together and note, photograph or draw anything they felt compelled to touch but couldn't.
These gentle yet highly evocative artistic gestures stand in stark contrast to politicians rhetoric who still seem out of touch with the ways in which the pandemic and the language used around it is effecting us all. As artists we carry on exploring ways to connect with our audiences and in some cases invite their virtual participation till we can return to 'real live' connections and interactions. I was interested to read an interview with artist Miranda July whose work often focuses on human connections. Asked what she thought the longer term impact of the pandemic and our subsequent rush to the digital platforms might be she said: "I have this fantasy that we’ll somehow think of social media and the online world as pandemic tools after this. We’ll be so grateful for them: we’ll understand that we were brilliant to have thought of this thing that is going to help us survive the many, many pandemics to come, but that we won’t feel quite as beguiled by them when there’s not a pandemic, because we’ll have this association‘**. I share July's aspiration and in the meantime will create virtual participatory experiences that reflect on our changing relationship with our homes.
*Alisa Oleva also created a beautifully evocative piece earlier on during the lockdown - inviting participants to look out of their windows, wherever they were in the world https://www.olevaalisa.com/view-from-the-window.