Doc. PaedDr. Hana Stehlíková Babyrádová /CZ/ - Masaryk University, Brno
Soul in touch
This text discusses the possibilities of overcoming the contradictory state of contemporary visuality through the crowded world of artistic expression, which is activated by tactile experience. This experience can be gained through working directly with the matter in a particular area. Interoreceptive experience puts the artist into contact with natural materials and awakens imagination and creativity. The author presents examples from her own work, based on the creation of haptic images emerging as inversion painting. Haptic painting is carried out by the shooting of clay, sand and dust pigments down onto the canvas surface. This tactile painting, where the artist often works with more than one other participant in the open countryside, displays the natural and spiritual principles of existence. According to the author, coloured pigments in the earth can symbolize dead souls in a second life. We see this interpretation of the existence of spiritual content directly over the ground in the Jewish religion. Hapticity is also associated with the symbolism of Eros, which of course is not a direct adoration of the body, but symbolizes the body‘s spiritual relationship to the material world. Images with abstract symbols - shapes made by dust and dirt- are the means of expressing that belief. They are an opportunity for the author to create "erotic" fusion material.
Doc. Hana Babyrádová Stehlíková, Masaryk University, Brno
What we need is a unifying principle; the attractor. The basis of this is a live connection to the sacred. I do not think that we can return to archaism, but suggest that we simply turn about face. The archeology of knowledge must go back to a point where we understand the essence of a past event, and then we put the old values into a modern form. (Araham, 2008, p 152)
1. Tactile experience
In the context of fine art we still frequently hear terms such as visuality, visual communication, visual icons and characters, etc. The time in which we live is literally weighed-down with visuality. If we counted the number of pictures and images we saw during just one day in 2013 and compared this number with those seen in one day ten years ago, we would probably see a remarkable distinction. Frequency alternating visual objects before our eyes is growing almost exponentially. True to Mcluhanovsky’s forecasts, we are slowly losing the ability to perceive with senses other than sight; a non-visual perception is subject to protracted atrophy. Enlightened figures from the world of arts and education responded to this situation by mobilizing their forces to create non-visual ways of perceiving and experiencing the world. One of the most archetypal experiences of "coexistence" is "tactile experience".
Tactile or haptic experience is defined as "Touch Sentiency", the ability to perceive through receptors stored in the skin, activated by the pressure from objects around us. In works of art it is important that the tactile experience connects the visual experience, and this connection is the starting point of working with creative material. The combination of visual and tactile perception is the basis of many classical art activities involving amorphous material (prime materials, such as clay, paper, stone, graphics board, metal, etc.). In the past - if we take into account the classical arts up to the emergence of modern art in the late 19th century - the procedures taught to students for working with material used set techniques taught in a workman-like manner, but later the avant-garde artists opened the gates and became less bound by these strict rules; they began experimenting with these materials. For some modernist trends (Dadaism, Surrealism, and others), haptic experience became strongly connected with interoreceptive experience (internal syncretised sensory perception) and also with visuality. When perceiving a work of art, it was certain that visual cues coming from experimental objects would automatically trigger a non-visual perceptual experience linked to the chain of memories and relationships. Syncretism in the perception and creation of art became a means of extending the active imagination. Tactile stimulation of sight, hearing and smell was a subject of interest to artists. Today, we are surrounded by a range of technically perfect products and man-made landscapes like ancient ONU and we have missed opportunity of usurping the "formless" and experiencing the first touch of raw materials. Even at the birth of performance art works we see the use of raw materials; raw material in installations (AnishKapoor) and also environmental performance art that only consists of "symbolic settlement of the vanished" in the documentation "newly desolate places", shown in the following quote, “The so-called new deserts occur in areas affected by the past and the mass presence of people. It was, of course, showed that they arise spontaneously without human effort and are usually found in abandoned industrial and mining areas. Other typical cases are territories belonging to railways, in fact, on land with unclear ownership or without specific landscape management.” (Zemková, 181, 2011).
2. Sensory image of the soul and the "soul landscape".
The conjunction of the soul and the senses; this theme has accompanied fine art since prehistoric times. Although it may seem that tactile experience is only concerned with the skin and the „skin of materials" and that sculpture is finally realised through sight, touch plays an important role in the visual arts.
As I indicated above, I am, in my own work and in my work with students, always interested in just such "soul landscapes", in which the sense of touch plays a significant role. Since 1990, I have created "haptic images" in various locations across Europe, which originated as a kind of "inversion of painting." I turned the canvas "face down" and using pressure and friction I created areas which, although originally formed by the visual sense, subsequently involved inner vision and imagination. These were finished in the studio and then displayed and offered viewers a visual perception. In some cases, I did these paintings in collaboration with groups of children and students. In these cases it was about more than just scanning the earth’s pigments, but also the actions that were evoked whist doing this. Participants, for example, rolled up the canvas, dragged them around the land, or played with them in other ways. We worked on the basis of the common awakening of the senses,"sensoriumcommune".
Tactile experience has become dominant in my artistic and educational activities over time, but I did not want to use only the superficial subsequent experiments without ideological content.
The sense of touch provides the best subject-object relationship. The object is here above all the collective soul landscape; the subject the individual soul of each of us. I would venture to actually extend the adage "an eye - a window to the soul" to "touch - the rendition of the soul." Although we already have the example of Aristotle, author of the writings, "About the Soul," which state that the soul is the substance of human life dwelling inside the body, from which it departs after death, and after death bodies move out of their physical “shells“. After all, it is the body, with all its senses, that is a sort of house for the soul. Aristotle illustrates the merger of two souls using the example of one soul dwelling in two bodies the following statement, “ friendship is one soul dwelling in two bodies.“
Not only in Greek philosophy, but also in the old Slavic culture and in many other religions is the substance of the soul associated with the breath. What is alive has a soul and breathes. Is also commonly used in reverse, to "inhale something into your soul," meaning to revive the dead. In connection with my own artistic and educational projects, after creating various haptic images representing different landscapes of the soul, I started thinking about the writings and concepts of the soul of the ancient Slavic people, Greeks and Hebrews. I asked myself how my tactile images, created using dust, can be associated with the concept of the breath of the soul. These are probably unconscious and indirect connections - the immateriality of the soul, in my concept, can be illustrated simply through dust. Subtle shades of dust which form the basis of colour pigments in the landscape, visualising the air, breath or smell. Looking at the image created from these subtle nuances, it is possible to invoke the imagination and also makes intangible the idea of the soul, both "human" and "the soul of the earth." The problem was that land, soil, region, etc, can only superficially be considered inanimate, because images produced directly on the ground animates the whole substance of the country. When sketching a fingerprint scanned from the surface of soil or rock, shapes can arise like living beings, which are not judged as being merely figurative.
These figures stood out as if from underground; the underworld, which also appears in many mythologies, coupled with the belief that the souls of the underworld permanently survive and occasionally come back to life in newly-born bodies. This interpretation of the existence of links between earth and soul would then explain the emergence of the haptic image as a representation of the boundary between two worlds - the world of living beings with souls in the bodies and souls to the underworld without bodies. So the shapes that appear involuntarily could be seen as the shadows in Plato's cave.
For me, haptic images have become an opportunity to symbolically experience the lost unity between soul and body; each image is a certain phenomenon referring to this unity. What philosophers tried and tried to explain theoretically (the relationship between soul and matter), is suddenly present in the image. The image "speaks" in symbols, and needs no comment.
3. Borders and borderless
The canvas onto which I imprint the earth’s pigments is, for me, the contact surface onto which everything appears as if all at once; the substance matter of the earth and the elements which spontaneously penetrate it and leave their tracks. While visual perception is very complex, touch and smell are based on simple sensors. Tactile sensors are directly related to our body. What I am really interested in is to have by direct physicality but then subsequently perceived visually. Suppose, however, that their visual perception is again associated with the invocation of haptic sensations.
Hand and Soul
Soul: In art, the psyche is often anthropomorphised, although it is regarded as something intangible, and it is often personified by a beautiful female character who awakens its appearance with rich imagination. The female body in paintings often means that we disregard the apparent integrity of the soul, and also the haptic tactile imagination. If the tactile imagination awakened the image of a female body, these ideas would be connected with erotica. Eros, in conjunction to sensuality, does not mean the actual touching, but often on the contrary; growing unavailability and ‘untouchability’, which accompany Eros in connection with spiritual experiences.
Touch as a strong sensory receptor in connection with the evocation of the Psyche may be involved in other ways; not through the picture, but through the material. We know this through the sayings, "to breathe life into materials", “ to create something from a shapeless mass", and, "to impress an idea into something." This can be very well illustrated by the basal tactile exercises during work on a haptic image and also in direct work with clay as a modelling material.
5. Haptic painting
Pictures are mostly determined by the perception of vision. Painting as a basic medium of artistic expression is ranked among the visual arts. Yet we find testimonies in the writings of art theorists and artists that through the image a tactile relationship can be established there can be established. Moreover, in some cases, artists say that this is what leads them to paint a picture; not only sight, but also touch, even when the images are painted with a brush.
Haptic painting for me is an important means of expressing my mental connection to the environment in which it operates. Probably the strongest experience for me is the forming of relationships with new lands which I reach when travelling. The haptic rendering of the substance of these lands, along with my experiences and mental processes, is captured in the haptic image and offered for silent reading by other souls wandering in further unknown landscapes.
Brno, 30th March, 2013