Reconsidering the magical force of bodily touch.
Touch is a magical power. As an expression of love it is fundamental – children need it to grow up healthy. That adults need touch too, is very much emphasized by today’s situation of lockdown. We are all getting acquainted with the phrase ‘skin hunger’ – as a way of expressing a feeling of loss, now that we can’t always use our bodies to show love. A kiss, a handshake, a high five: human communication isn’t only about language, it involves bodily interaction.
At the same time there always was, and will be, danger. Touching with the wrong intentions can lead to traumatizing experiences, and touch might lead to contamination. Much is uncertain about the future, but it is clear that the 1.5 -meter society will give new meanings to our perception of touch. That change is just one aspect of a development that was set in motion at a much earlier time: in the digital age, we are used to touching our screens more often than those we love.
Is it possible to replace bodily touch with an inanimate material? What does a person’s touch say about his or her personality? Questions like these is what "The Finger Rub Rug", a multimedia art installation by artist Laura A Dima (1991), is all about.
"The Finger Rub Rug" consists of a carpet of 1300 lifelike silicone replicas of the fingers of the artist’s partner, placed in a dedicated room. You may touch the fingers. They feel warm, thanks to a heating blanket under the installation. As you move around, you might notice that the soft enchanting music sounds different in every corner: scary, funny, exciting. It makes you think about your own judgments. "The Finger Rub Rug" is a serene temple in which we can rethink our physical relationship to each other.
‘I love my partner’s fingers, but he has only ten. Are more fingers more fun? What would it be like to be able to lie on a bed of fingers?’ From those questions, Dima started her research. In her youth, during the 1990’s in Romania, physical interaction was not a cultural norm. Later she found her place in the punk and fetish scene in the Netherlands. ‘I became fascinated by how people experience (sexual) freedom with the use of physical materials. Why do people feel liberated by wearing plastic and latex? Why these materials? What exactly does it replace?’
Visitors of "The Finger Rub Rug" first undergo a cleaning ritual, and are then allowed to enter the room one by one. Individual interaction is essential for this work.
Creepy, funny or erotic?
During the development of "The Finger Rub Rug", Dima discovered that people who were confronted with the fingers for the first time go through the same four phases: first they think it is creepy, then a little bit funny, after that they will see it as a more neutral object, and finally, it becomes tempting to play with the fingers. The fingers become something exciting, or even erotic. Do you want to lie down on it? Closely examine one finger? Walk over it? Anything is allowed.
These different possibilities of responding to the silicone fingers are highlighted by the spatial soundtrack, created by Dima’s partner, fellow artist and musician Martin Draax. The musical piece consists of a central theme, which gets different accents from separate speakers in the four corners of the room: humorous, creepy, sultry or more natural.
The music is played over a 5-speaker set: 4 speakers have an atmosphere of their own. The fifth speaker is a tactile transducer (via Vibe Research Labs, TU Delft), placed underneath the mat of fingers and transmits a heartbeat vibration. The musical parts of the soundtrack are rhythmically based on the heartbeat. Laying on the mattress brings you into an auditive ocean with certain 'islands' being musically recognisable entities. And you feel the extra heartbeat in your chest.
The difference between people’s reactions to the silicone replicas of fingers was also evident during the workshops that Dima gave in preparation for "The Finger Rub Rug". She worked with all kinds of couples: lovers, colleagues, best friends, classmates and taught them the craft of mould making. This time-consuming process leads to a new kind of interaction. Peoples own (silicone) fingers became a conversation piece.
‘Conversations between people who were not always so familiar with one another, suddenly became a lot more personal’, says Dima. A group of Moroccan-Dutch women was initially sceptical about the project. Later they enthusiastically took part in the workshop, but not all of them wanted to touch "The Finger Rub Rug". ‘These are your boyfriend’s fingers, they are yours, I don’t want to interfere.’
This rejection is just one example of the fascinating power of "The Finger Rub Rug": in not wanting to touch the lady takes the artwork seriously. Even for someone who was at first sceptical, there appears to be something of personality – of humanity – in the silicone fingers. Something of the magical, personal power of touch has been transferred into the lifeless material. And it is for all of us who enter "The Finger Rub Rug" to find out individually what touching means to us.
‘The Finger Rub Rug’ was made by Laura A Dima in ISO Amsterdam, a collaborative working arena. For the construction of the dedicated space ‘The Finger Rub Rug’ is in, Dima collaborated with other creatives working in Broedplaats ISO. The exhibition initially planned in April, was rescheduled to July 3 until September 19, 2020.