A State of Touching II

by Bells HowardJuly 22, 2021
Still of performative lecture by Bells Howard

“It’s a state of touching the surrounding energy and I shudder.”

Clarice Lispector, Agua Viva, 1973

To experience an object as art while aware of its memory, is to intensely experience it. There are places full of objects that touch, and, in return, fill you with the desire to touch back. There is a physical reaction that occurs in proximity with art objects: a quivering of the air that grazes your skin and produces a shudder.

If that touch is forbidden, as in a room full of glass jars, the phenomenon is ever more present. In form these glass jars contain things you can’t touch or see, especially if they are unlabeled, that fill you with a yearning to dig up their secrets. They tease you with coy glances and hints of what is at their center. In turn, inviting you in to smash and destroy them so you may obtain that deeper knowledge, that deeper intimacy of their being. These feelings incited by these jars are your relationship to them; it becomes an exchange.

Whether this exchange between your being and the object is destructive or instructive, it is about a feeling of touching and being aware of that touch. It is a filling experience, which allows for energy to flow from one object to another. Objects are bodies, like human bodies, full of memories and sensations. We live in constant collision and creation with these object bodies. When we interact with another body we participate in an exchange of energy and feeling, both being impacted by this exchange. This interaction can be between you and me, you and a table, a window and a tree, a piece of art and the viewer, or a house and its inhabitants. In realizing everything is a body, we recognize that relationships can be built between anything and ourselves and between any number of objects and individuals.

When a relationship occurs there is a chain of relationships and exchanges of feeling created between many bodies and are continuously exchanged within a space. They spill and fold over and onto themselves again and again, spreading through containers becoming an invisible current of touch. A new body entering such a space feels the touch of these concentrated feelings trembling in the air, inviting them to join in. This new relationship is visceral: a sharing of these different touches and feelings occurs and adds a new voice to the eternal dialogue of that space; a dialogue that expands and burrows itself into its surroundings with each word etched into the bodies occupying the space in the form of memories; a resultant swell of the state of intimacy. If you are in one of these spaces you can choose to participate, to feel this caress from the tip of your forehead to the hair on your legs, to experience this shudder if you allow yourself.

Still of performative lecture by Bells Howard

“… any object, any situation, can be art if so experienced…”1 says David Ireland about his Maintenance Action work at 500 Capp Street. Maintenance Action is a term that describes Ireland’s work where art is something flowing underneath all things, something that is already there and ready to be experienced when a person is willing to participate. He goes on to say “My art would be that of living; each second, each breath is a work which is inscribed nowhere, which is neither visual or cerebral. It is a sort of euphoria.”2 However, it is inscribed, engraved in his surroundings, affecting the objects he creates in Ireland’s home at 500 Capp Street. When you step onto the staircase you see it recorded in the lines of the dark wood, carved into its very being. Like a memory mirror, when participants place their feet on a step they will feel your foot on the soles of their feet. A visible sensation from the wearing of the boards, in the discoloration from a burnt umber brown to a light sienna. But, this act is also recorded within the staircase’s memory, every foot acting as a trigger. Years of footsteps, bare and covered, are etched into these winding stairs. To walk up them is like floating to a new realm of lightness.

The act of using generational memory and the history of what an object has come in contact with is a form of stabilization for Ireland. This form of memory stabilizes your position in the history of the home by realizing the intensity of the life within these objects. Gaston Bachelard ponders this, stating: “Immensity in the intimate domain is intensity. An intensity of being, the intensity of a being evolving in a vast perspective of intimate immensity.” To experience something in immensity is to experience it intimately, and in order to intimately experience something you must create your own relationship to it.

Still of performative lecture by Bells Howard

Mark Thompson, friend and collaborator of Ireland’s, describes this, saying “to create a relationship with something you must care for it.” It’s a relationship of tapping into an object’s memory through your own memories, memories that are inherently immense. This immensity fills the object and your mind creating an experience of art and care with this object.

Ireland inhabited the house at 500 Capp Street with extreme care. He saw and treated it as another living body in relation to himself. You can feel this nurture in the words he uses in his diary.3

“After removing the immediate skin of the prior occupant, I washed and washed with the care that goes with the last shrouded bath in the Gauges.”

 He speaks of the house with these types of immensities, as if it is its own vast universe that grew and collapsed with each new generation of occupancy/ownership.

“I found gouges that I was sure were from glaciers that had ripped through the hallways and chambers Of this house.”

When you walk into the house there is a collective gaze that meets yours and invites you in. Every body in the house meets your eye creating a spark of emotion. You are both incapable of hiding from the other’s gaze. All you can do is breathe and feel the air that surrounds that pulses and swells through the bodies of the house in the rising of your chest. We depend on objects, and they depend on us because without these fellow bodies we would be empty of memory, it takes two to create intimacy. 500 Capp Street is a collective intimacy through being a place where a body can feel it is made of the same essence as those which surround it.

Still of performative lecture by Bells Howard

The metal in the walls, or a wire drawing made of the same metals in your blood. There is a recognition. The metals pulse together, flowing faster through your veins pulling your body to expand with it. You recognize and are recognized as the same matter and become incapable of fighting off this great shudder.

  1. The Art Of David Ireland:  The Way Thing Are, Karen Tsujimoto []
  2. The Art Of David Ireland: The Way Things Are, Karen Tsujimoto []
  3. David Ireland Diary []

Bells Howard grew up in Portland Oregon and now resides in Oakland, CA. They are pursuing a BFA in painting from the California College of the Arts and were formerly enrolled at the San Francisco Art Institute.