Touch Experience  2013-2014 

I have been exploring the effect of physical touch since 2012. Thinking about 30 years ago, we exchanged information and expressed emotions by face-to-face chatting or writing letters. We cherished every possibility of communication and connection with others. Nowadays, global internet makes everything so fast and so easy. We don’t appreciate the connection, and we don’t have deep contact with others anymore. Physical contact, however, is one of the most effective way of communication. Even though we used to be so familiar with touch as we were with breathing, it’s often downplayed or disregarded even within such fields as the history of the body or the history of medicine. Human skin is the oldest and the most sensitive of our organs, our first medium of communication, and our most efficient protector. Touch is the parent of our eyes, ears, nose and mouth, is the mother of senses. Each owner of a human body necessarily bound up in the physical. For me, the most exciting aspect of touch is that touch is so broadly related to our culture, history, individual personality, human community, sensitive feelings, humanity, sociology, psychology emotions, biological effects, and our relationship with other species, etc.. I see touch not only as a special form of meaningful language, connection, and interaction, but also a representation of the human being, which effects profoundly in human society and the larger world.

Oxytocin brain

Oxytocin brain

Oxytocin, which enhances a sense of trust, empathy and attachment, has a critical impact both on mother-infant bonding and social bonding. Oxytocin levels increase when we love, connect, and socialize with those around us. Oxytocin connects us to other people, makes us feel what other people feel.

You are connected

You are connected

Perception plays the role of governing the way we communicate with one another. Humans form connections based on their own reality and belief system, hence, we tend to migrate towards people with similar likes and dislike, building these networks of people we know, respect and trust.

The space between us

The space between us

The body schema – an awareness of the movement and coordination between different parts of the body and between our body and the environment, the sense of where “my” body leaves off and “yours” begins – is a part of bodily awareness that senses that our body belongs to us and to no one else, as well as our sense of movement and balance, our ability to locate parts of ourselves, our sense of our body size and shape, and the awareness that our body has boundaries that separate us from others.

Distance and touch

Distance and touch

The other and intimate space are deeply interrelated in two ways: intimate space appears at the exact moment that the other appears; and secondly, the other appears as space or distance, which is said to be a part of the “Self”. The second proposed interrelation brings further consequences. The other does not appear only as space, but also through and as an overwhelming feeling. Hall ascribes the cause of this overwhelming feeling to the “greatly stepped-up sensory inputs.”-james-mt.blogspot.com

Touch History

Touch History

In the past, touching was a common part of our life. Especially in the Middle Ages –– the communal times, it was dangerous to stand alone as an individual and dangerous to venture outside. Common bowl, common tub, common bed and common forms of social touching fostered a feeling of unity. No barriers or suspicious separated oneself from the group. It created an environment of openness and trust. In the Middle Ages information was generally communicated through the medium of the human body.

Reference to Core Connection

After reading up on the theoretical and historical background of touch, I chose to conduct four practical experiences and the project “sensory connection” having to do with touch from different perspectives and towards different aims. Hence, this part presents the four experiences, exploring 4 ways of how I understand touch.

Clay collection

Clay collection

For the first experience, I asked pedestrians to make their own clays, and let them choose a piece of different-colored paper, asked them to write down anything they want.

Clay collection

Clay collection

The clay was used as a way of recording, preserving and transmitting participants’ touch, temperatures, impressions, intensity of touch, and feelings when they are touching. I want these clays to present three-dimensional and tangible touch experiences, to have an impact on viewers, to arouse the tangible sense and viewers’ imaginations. To communicate how this touch feels and not just how it looks. It may also provide the thrill of coming into vicarious contact with their original creators.

Physical space effects

Physical space effects

What if there is a long narrow table, when people sit by, they have to touch underneath the table, or there is a huge “table” with multiple holes, which is extremely constrained. When people fit inside we can only see others’ heads, and give them a chance to feel the others’ bodies by touching and sharing (communicating with bodies).

Physical space effects

Physical space effects

There are three directions I tried to convince people to go inside and touch: the plain wood “table”; added-on transparent plastic roof; added-on mirrors. For the second direction, I wanted to create this half-closed and half-open space. People “share” their breaths. It is another connectivity and “touch”. For the third one, it’s like a maze, makes people see and touch differently.

Getting close to others

Getting close to others

Even through touch is physical, but it has many non-physical properties connected to relation, boundaries, and contact. We “touch” each other even without physically touching as soon as we intentionally attempt to be close.

Touch book

Touch book

This is a book I made that explores the theme “touch”. In order to achieve a better understanding of touch, I use the Google Earth to search most parts of the world, across different countries, different cultures and different religions to find out how and where people touch others under various circumstances. I collected 50 pictures and also opened up my imagination, made up my own stories of the particular touch that relate to the picture and sketch them, and drew the book “touch”.

"This is a good hug spot"

"This is a good hug spot"

I made a street sign for this experience: “This is a good hug spot”. And I went to Boston common park and park street subway station, stuck the sign on the ground and bench. Then I left and observed how people react to this signs from far way.

I found most people desire closeness. It takes courage and self-confidence to be close to someone. We run the risk of being rejected, as well as the risk of entering into a relation that may change and remold us. In modern time, people are always busy doing their own things. But there isn’t a simple appropriate place for people to touch.

© 2015 by Xinyu Liu.  All rights reserved