Erkki Huhtamo, media archaeologist, scholar, and curator, is Professor of Media History and Theory at UCLA’s Department of Design | Media Arts. Recent research topics include peep media, the history of the screen, and the archaeology of mobile media.
“The idea of interactivity is intimately linked with touching” (71).
“Haptic vision” refers to the visual touch. Within figurative art, there are two tendencies: imagery at deep distances and texture at close proximity. However, per Deleuze and Guattari (1987) and McLuhan (1964) in this essay and throughout this summer’s other readings, we know we can’t really separate the optic and haptic practices of looking — sensuous experiences inform and interact with each other to create a full “picture.” The Cartesian dualism is an inappropriate.
The emphasis of this essay explores “the cultural, ideological, and institutional ramifications of touching artworks …. How has touching art been related with acts of touching taking place in other contexts–at work, leisure, and in ritual?” (72). Early museums encouraged their visitors to touch the works, but this practice ceased as notions of private property, access and education, social status altered society’s relationship with objects, supervision, and preservation. At the same time, the newly minted department store stepped in to provide consumers with opportunities to touch the finery.
Also at the same time, the avant-garde railed against these new “tactiloclasms” (the express forbidding of touching art). F.T. Marinetti’s “Manifesto of Tactilism” (1921) articulated the Futurists’ attack on academia and bourgeois culture. It’s possible that Picasso’s and Braque’s use of found things conveyed an interest in the tactile. Duchamp proclaimed that “retinal art” should be “cerebral” instead (78). Huhtamo wonders if Bicycle Wheel (1913) isn’t a “protointeractive work” and considers Duchamp’s and Frederick Kiesler’s Twin-Touch-Test (1943) to be “the most explicit experiment in tactility” (82). Feminist work with the “tactile passive body” (85) foregrounds the relationships between bodies (those of artists and sometimes participants) in happenings, performances, and “body art” of the 60s and 70s.
Some contemporary interactive art is fine with visual/aural feedback and implied tactile replies, but there are those that do give discrete “intimate touch” responses. Examples include Ken Feingold’s The Surprising Spiral (1991), Bernie Lubell’s Cheek to Cheek (1999), MIT Media Lab Tangible Media Group’s inTouch (1997-8), and Christa Sommerer and Laurent Mignonneau’s Mobile Feelings I (2001).