Notes and Photographs on ‘An Introduction to Touching Paintings’

Begin in the Dark


Performance given on 29 November 2013

This performance piece is an exploration of the audience’s relationship and mine, both physically and psychologically, to the painted image on the wall. The traditional oil on canvas image is sacred and untouchable and yet our innate desire is to touch this object. It holds the meaning that we imbue it with, but somehow resists our knowing it in other ways.

In this performance I wanted to move with the audience from the environment and state of the art studio to a space that altered our perception of the art works.

The performance starts with darkness and we travel through different degrees of light to reveal the paintings and our experience of them. I begin with lighting candles and then explore the painting by touching it before moving behind it, bringing it slowly away from the wall that holds it. As I become more entwined in the painting I pull it off the wall and wrap myself in it. Once the painting is in a different relationship to us I invite another person to dance with me to electronic disco making a connection with an ecstatic club environment. We are holding large torches that flash across the paintings sporadically revealing them. The performance progresses with my inviting everyone present to dance and be with and in the presence of the paintings creating our art.

I staged this performance in a space with others that was not brightly lit with the suggestion that we will get more from more light. The candlelight and the music meant that the space for perceiving the paintings on the walls kept changing. When the viewers joined in the dance that brought a literal side to how their individual situations were a part of what they came to see. When I took the paintings down and wrapped myself in them and danced with them, that crossed a line and brought in a forbidden exciting experience – of touching the moving marks on the canvas with my own body.

Great master works of the Renaissance were often viewed with candlelight that changed throughout the day and evening. The viewers’ relationship to the work would have been influenced by this physical experience. It invited a psychological understanding of the work informed by flashes of the images, glimmering light and the moving or swaying of the viewers’ own bodies. The space between what viewers saw and what they remembered seeing was greater, allowing them to enlarge upon and reconfigure their own experience through time and memory.

I am currently interested in the overlapping nature of teaching, performance and the art object. Our relationship to art is potentially a dynamic one, but often what people remember is the visit to the gallery rather than the art works. Perhaps in a way the café is where art also happens – a place where people can experience a sense of communication absent from the experience of looking alone and silently at a work in a gallery.