Sunday, 10 July 2016

Haptic Seeing

Keywords: Haptic seeing - Optic seeing / Surface / Sensation / Void / Liminal 

The origin of the term haptic is the Greek word haptikos, which translates as "able to touch" Monique & Jones - 2006 - p.318

'Haptic seeing' could be explained as touching an object with your eyes, it relates to interlinked nature of the senses where through experience of touch the brain can synthesis sensation by interpreting visual data from the eyes. The haptic response is therefore a bodily one not just an optical one contained in the mind. How my work may evoke this haptic or bodily response has been central to the development of my ideas. 

Haptic seeing as a term is most associated with Deleuze however Deleuze is building on the work of another, Alois Riegl. It is Riegl who first coins the phrase. Alois Reign 1858-1904 was an Austrian Academic formalist, best known for his work Spätrömische Kunstindustrie (Late Roman art industry) (1901) in which he coins the term Kunstollen. This roughly translates as 'will to art' and describes the human desire to create art to express a desired reality, not to just imitate reality.

'All human will is directed toward a satisfactory shaping of man's relationship to the world, within and beyond the individual. The plastic Kunstwollen regulates man's relationship to the sensibly perceptible appearance of things. Art expresses the way man wants to see things shaped or coloured, just as the poetic Kunstwollen expreses the way man wants to imagine them. Man is not only a passive, sensory recipient, but also a desiring, active being who wishes to interpret the world in such a way (varying from one people, region, or epoch to another) that it most clearly and obligingly meets his desires.'Tr. C.S. Wood: The Vienna School reader: politics and art historical method in the 1930s (2000), p.94-95

Riegl claimed that within the notion of his 'will to art' there were 3 distinct types of aesthetic principles, governing 3 different historical periods. These were the Egyptian, Greek and Roman. Riegl believed that in all three periods the ancients endeavoured to set the boundries of space, fixing the world in flattened two dimensional forms to represent external objects as clearly as possible. Riegl proposed that they had rejected an 'optical' style of looking which becomes prevalent during the renaissance because it presents a confusing view of the external world. Here they were trying to simplify and make clear. Spaces during these period are represented as voids, the absence of form. Depicted objects appeared isolated, separate and objective. The simplest way of perceiving an isolated object is through touch, the surface of the object reinforcing its material substance. Yet the hand cannot fully comprehend an object, vision is more adapt and quick to establish height and width and is able to establish an understanding based on multiple perceptions much more quickly. So a full understanding of an object as three-dimensional requires the synthesis of visual and tactile observations. Hand and eye come together to reinforce each other. He further stipulates that knowledge gained from tactile encounters with an object help the eye synthesise this pre-known tactile information. Thus Riegl introduces the concept of 'tactile' or 'haptic' vision in while the role of the hand is synthesised. Riegl's applies this term to ancient art but not to more modern art which employed the illusionistic devise of perspective. This he termed as 'optical' vision in which surface and therefore the hand becomes much less important, the eye being the dominant force for establishing space and form.

Deleuze resurrected the term in his 1981 critique of the work of Francis Bacon 'The Logic of Sensation' Deleuze argues that “With the haptic... space becomes tactile as if the eye were now a hand caressing one surface after another without any sense of the overall configuration or mutual relation of those surfaces. It is a virtual space whose fragmented components can be assembled in multiple combinations.”

The haptic is therefore the sensation of the surface, be it of a painting or a projector screen. We are aware of the surface qualities of a work rather than journeying into illusionistic space. Considering Film as haptic rather than optic makes one consider the need of the projected image to appeal to the body in a more active role. The viewer becoming an active spectator or participant who receives information through all senses. The sensation of experiencing the work becomes vital. this notion seems to suggest that sensation and perception are separate concepts, yet it is hard to cleanly separate them, indeed Gibson (1966) looks to consider the two terms interlinked and interchangeable triggers for a haptic experience or response.

'The sensibility of the individual to the world adjacent to his body by the use of his body will here be called the haptic system..... it is not just the sense of skin pressure. It is not even the sense of pressure plus the sense of kinaesthesia... The haptic is the sensory system through which one feels an object [relative] to the body and the body relative to an object... and by which... men are literally in touch with the environment'
Gibson - 1966 - p.97

My recent experiments have seen me trying to engage the viewer as an active spectator or participant. In Shadow time1 the viewers silhouette is projected onto the work exposing a second layer of projection hidden beneath the first. The viewer is also able to move 360 degrees around the work, exploring how the relationship between their physical selves and the work develops and changes. Indeed the viewer is a vital part of the work, without interaction only the landscape video is visible and the agency of the work is limited.The textural nature of the projected charcoal animation also creates a rich surface which one may 'feel', charcoal is an emotive medium as its imperfections make one aware of the artists hand. Viewing the silhouette filled with this handrawn image somehow feels more appropriate than on the reverse of the screen, here it is the videoed landscape that fills the silhouette. 

As a result of these observations I have decided that in my work for the final exhibition I will use this arrangement, projecting videoed landscape from the front and charcoal animation from behind. This will make it so the spectators silhouette is filled with the charcoal animation. I also plan to situate the screen so that it is not central in the space but to one end so that the spectator is unable to move behind the front screen. This is a decision I have thought hard about, I like the idea of viewing the work from 360 degrees, seeing the front and back or 'recto' and 'verso' (Daniel Buren - The Diagram). But in balancing the lighting of the projected images so that the back projection is hidden by the front one the 'verso' of the screen always appears much more visually 'messy'. With both images more evenly balanced in terms of intensity as the thickness of the paper works to soften the strength of the front image on the rear screen.

Still from - Shadowtime 1

Still from - Process and Perception

In my work 'Process and Perception' I believe viewing transitions between the haptic and optical. As the work begins the spectator is presented with a surface, an apparent flat screen which the charcoal animation sits upon. As the screen starts to burn the sensation of the work intensifies, fire being a known element to the viewer who will be aware of its heat, its sound, its smell. Our response to it is therefore felt through the senses and is haptic. However as it burns away we become aware of a space behind the picture plain, the forest environment, this has illusionistic depth both because we are now aware that it sits behind the first screen and therefore must be further back, but also because the image itself obeys the laws of perspective, appearing to recede into the distance. This new space is therefore optical. With the burning of this second screen we become aware that it does not recede but is infact a flat image, and so we are back to the haptic. This cycle continues on to the last screen of the black void. Here the type of space is more ambiguous, I would argue that this black void is again rooted in the haptic as it is a flat space. However black does imply infinity, the depth of space and therefore could be described as illusionistic. When Anish Kapoor places a black circle on the floor or wall it acts as a hole, a portal which threatens to consume us, his blackness is therefore optical.  However In 'Process and Perception' this black void is loaded with what has come before, we are aware of the different sensations of the work, the fire, the animation, all the screens. This sites the void as a liminal space, imbued with a kind of  'haptic memory' 

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