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  • Writer's pictureCarol Wiebe

Art That Raises Texture to a New Level

The other day, after writing a post about wearing paperChris Bolmeier sent me a hilarious request that I create a paper dress for her.  Then I ran across THIS vest, and was enthralled! Lynda Monk, of Purple Missus, tells us:

It started life as bog-standard inexpensive gift wrap tissue which has then been painted, bonded, sprayed and waxed, several times and in different sequences to end up as a soft fabric with a metallic leather look to it.

There is an array of wonderful textures to see in that post, not to mention Photofest, which is exactly that!

I was so excited by what I saw that I ordered her new book, Stitching the Textured Surface, immediately.

The book is co-written with Carol McFee, who also features breathtaking textures on her site, Textile Tales.

Untitled ~ by Carol McFee

What is it about textures that raises our temperatures and causes us to salivate?

As Natalie Angier wrote, in an article for The New York Times entitled Primal, Acute and Easily Duped: Our Sense of Touch:

Biologically, chronologically, allegorically and delusionally, touch is the mother of all sensory systems. It is an ancient sense in evolution: even the simplest single-celled organisms can feel when something brushes up against them and will respond by nudging closer or pulling away. It is the first sense aroused during a baby’s gestation and the last sense to fade at life’s culmination. Patients in a deep vegetative coma who seem otherwise lost to the world will show skin responsiveness when touched by a nurse. Like a mother, touch is always hovering somewhere in the perceptual background, often ignored, but indispensable to our sense of safety and sanity. “Touch is so central to what we are, to the feeling of being ourselves, that we almost cannot imagine ourselves without it,” said Chris Dijkerman, a neuropsychologist at the Helmholtz Institute of Utrecht University in the Netherlands. “It’s not like vision, where you close your eyes and you don’t see anything. You can’t do that with touch. It’s always there.”
For all its antiquity and constancy, touch is not passive or primitive or stuck in its ways. It is our most active sense, our means of seizing the world and experiencing it, quite literally, first hand. Susan J. Lederman, a professor of psychology at Queen’s University in Canada, pointed out that while we can perceive something visually or acoustically from a distance and without really trying, if we want to learn about something tactilely, we must make a move. We must rub the fabric, pet the cat, squeeze the Charmin. And with every touchy foray, Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle looms large. “Contact is a two-way street, and that’s not true for vision or audition,” Dr. Lederman said. “If you have a soft object and you squeeze it, you change its shape. The physical world reacts back.”

Our longing for touch, then, is not a frivolous matter, but “the mother of all sensory systems.”  Just as our skin luxuriates in being touched, we are eager to stroke, tap, rub, or otherwise explore the myriad of sensual surfaces that deliver complex information, and pleasure, to our neural circuitry. That aspect of “reacting back” means that a sensory conversation is going on between that which touches and that which is being touched.

I always refer to the tingle test, indicating that my “aesthetic barometer” is registering high affinity. When something causes a ripple of tingles in my body, my attention is riveted. My hands become highly sensitized and will touch autonomically. It is verboten to touch artwork, especially when it is on display, and as an artist I certainly understand this intellectually. But in a primal sense, my hands are wont to follow their own volition, dictated by that ancient sense of touch.

Now I know, if I should commit such a faux pas, that I can say “Mother made me do it.”

P.S. Chris, now you know where to go for that dress!

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