Elizabeth Whitehouse

Forbidden Touch

&

Touching Identity

The first video is a collation of the steps I took in creating the piece, Forbidden Touch. Starting with the theme of ‘Identity: Crisis’, I began to think about how the lockdown restrictions of the pandemic interfered with touch. We have been separated from our loved ones and friends in a way that we were unfamiliar with. Our primary mode of communication, touch, became obstructed and dangerous. A simple handshake or a loving hug became deadly acts. In the process of making the piece, I came to realise that while the lockdown has restricted physical touch, humans will find novel ways of touching in the face of adversity. We have, through the use of video technologies, developed ways to continue to connect with others. I wanted to represent the enabling, connecting power of the screen in a physical form, drawing and cutting out the hands to place them within touching distance. This distance between the hands is important because, like the hands of God and Adam, they can’t quite touch. Technology can enable touch, but nothing quite beats a good, old-fashioned hug.

The second video is also interested in touch. I have long been interested in the ways through which touch shapes our identity. The continuum from birth to death can be a long one, and it seems we are continually reaching out to one another through touch. We live our lives through touch, learning and developing under the touch of others. It is humbling to know that touch outlives us, with the final hand-hold of a loved one extending moments after we have gone.

Pieces

Reflecting

What struck you from what the other artist expressed?

A

I love the translation of touch from quite a classic piece to be more applicable in the 21st century. I also love the use of layering to create more of a 3D effect, it almost looks like a stop-motion animation. 

B

Innovative ways of connecting through screen technologies incorporating experimental, multi-sensory engagement and hands-on processes. The pivotal role of exploratory and reciprocal touch as a cornerstone to identity, inter-being and thriving. 

C

The dangerousness of touch, as well as the lack of it -- the former seemed to personalize the latter.

D

I love the lighting difference between the two sides of touch – one partly in shadows and the other illuminated. The touchee sees the toucher in their own light, regardless of the darkness the touch comes from. 

E

I think the piece is clever and rather effective. It is an interesting idea that people are at once near and out of reach, our sensation of touch given a new meaning (and risk) by the current situation. I love the reference to The Creation of Adam, it lends gravity and I feel creates a sense in which situation is new, our world will not be the same after these times and I get that sense strongly in the piece. 

 

 

How is that relevant to your experiences and did you have any new thoughts / reflections as a result of the creative piece?

A

I often forget that we can’t come close to our loved ones as it seems natural to do so, and then I have to remind myself that that isn’t possible anymore. So, reaching out and but not being quite there resonates very well. 

B

Encouragement to explore imaginative and spontaneous ways of connecting virtually through time-based media. Reinforces the necessity to draw on our under-used, embedded, body intelligences to connect and learn from those whose verbal communication is not a strength - developing close observation and attention to unique facial and bodily expression.  

C

That sense of the danger reminded me of the wariness of people on the street -- and the outbreak of public politeness and consideration for others (just now starting to trail off). The video formed a nice context to that sense of danger, and gave a sharper sense of the possible loss of a language. I'm still unsure whether it was right, or justifiable, to prevent relatives being with their loved ones when they died; being safe, as the rule of life, seems an impoverished version of living.

D

I like the way a religious piece of art has been recontextualised to more accurately represent the touch of God within these times. Coming from a religious background, I really feel like it captures the feeling of religious experiences through events such as virtual sermons.

E

I am an only child and as such experiencing lockdown with my parents has meant that I typically only see a couple of people in a day, a most unusual experience. I really resonate with the Elizabeth’s piece, its longing for contact and religious allegory highlights the importance of human contact within my own life, and the lives of everyone.

 

 

Elizabeth

A

Your point about the 3D effect is interesting - I like the idea of it being like a stop-motion animation, bringing the piece to life. Touch is an action, it requires movement, and so I think this dynamic in the piece works well. Also, I hadn’t thought about the space between the two hands as representing the liminal space we find ourselves in. The idea of being close enough to touch, but not being able/allowed to, is very interesting at this time.

B

I'm glad the enquiry into multiple ways of connecting through technologies came across in the first video, and your summary of the 2nd video is a great articulation of the theme: identity, inter-being and thriving. I'm particularly struck by the relationship between exploratory and reciprocal touch, as Hayley Hall articulated with her piece 'Holding Hands', when we touch someone we are being touched back. For me, this symbiosis is an important reminder that the power in touch is shared, and is not something that should be 'taken' from another. Like you say, I also think this restores power to those without verbal communication, allowing them agency in interactions.

C

It will be interesting to see how the public mood shifts as we come out of lockdown, and whether both the fear of the touch of others, and consideration for others, prevail. The point you raise about the prioritising of safety is an interesting one. I too have questioned whose safety is being prioritised in these instances, and at what cost? It seems to me that in this case, the safety of the ‘general public’ trumped the right of individuals to be with their loved ones, and I’m not sure if that price is justified. When you say 'rule of life', it strikes me as a rule imposed on them, rather than necessarily self-chosen. This dilemma reminds me of the approach by government towards the homeless during the pandemic, with local councils finally given sufficient resources to house the homeless, but seemingly only because this community is now viewed as a potentially dangerous pool of transmission to the 'general public'.

D

I like your point about the way in which our world won’t be the same even after the crisis resolves. Seeing the use of The Creation of Adam as adding both a fundamental element to the piece, and also something irrevocable, is interesting. I’m glad the sense of longing came across – I think that’s a great way to describe it.

E

Your point about the contrast in light between the two sides is insightful – it’s true we often see others in the light that we wish to, perhaps ‘reflected’ in our own light. It’s interesting how the religious origins of the photo speak to you in the modern setting, with virtual sermons becoming the method of preaching and praying. I wonder whether you feel the hand of God touches through this medium, through the screen, in the way they might in a physical church/place of worship.

Visitors reflecting

I found your images very contemplative and poignant. When we were first locked down, I did not immediately notice the lack of touch, but now many weeks and months later, I miss it dreadfully. Your use of a recognisable image of the two hands almost touching is very clever and I like the way you have placed a wall between them in your 3-D representation, because barriers between us and other people is what we are all now experiencing. (Tracy)

As a practising doctor working on a rotation at a hospice this has been something my colleagues and I have particularly noticed- the default to gently put a hand on the arm of a patient to comfort. It's something that patients and their relatives have struggled with immensely. I find myself instinctively going to comfort a patient then realising with my gloved hand, apron and mask how far removed this feels. I identify with the thoughts around touch becoming 'a deadly act' while before it was something so normal. I remember reflecting that my hands, once something that helped me access the world and that provided care, had become something so dangerous that must be scrubbed until dry and sore and covered repetitively in latex gloves. (Raf)

Excellent pieces of work, Elizabeth - together, they tell an engaging story about the most powerful of the three senses that have gone missing during lockdown, and that carries such important resonance for humanity, in health and in sickness. It was great seeing the visual piece taking shape, and the juxtaposition with the more 'academic' insight worked really well. Another stark reminder of something whose importance we often forget, because outside lockdown conditions, we just tale it for granted. Great - thanks! (Gareth)

Your Reflections
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