The Touching of Walls

The word ‘haptic’ springs to mind in regards to much of the work discussed here.1The term might also refer to the typeface selected, Goudy Old Style, developed by Frederic W.Goudy in 1915, and known as one of the easiest styles to read. Perhaps a typeface could be considered a non-verbal communication that has a subtle influence on the text. Can a typeface be spoken? The sense of touch, or of grasping. The proprioception of things. The notion of the haptic may refer to a work, or to a tool or to the ways that computer systems imitate books at times, or other such interfaces. Or, indeed, to the furniture with which one interfaces with things such as books. I mean to write something about the reading of an image, the reading of a work, and the construction of context that comes in this act of reading. But that will happen elsewhere. Here I will write about the sense of touch present in the research that these texts describe. Handling books, handling editions, handling catalogues, invitation cards and pieces of correspondence. But also, perhaps, the sense of touch in the works discussed. The touching of walls.2Here, touching can be understood as an extended form of engagement with an object or place. It seems odd that understanding tends to be shaped by language and mental systems, rather than in the senses, which are relegated to describing experience. Perhaps we think of touch as unreliable because of its lack of a verifiable language and critical position.

In the work of Terry Smith the artist’s hands, surely, pass across a wall many hundreds of times. They remove its layers, and therefore remove increments of what makes a wall a wall. In his contribution to the Box Project these hands encounter walls malleable by the hand, and so he inverts the walls of a card-box and reverses them; reverses the entire structure into its negative form. There is a play between inside and outside, dark and light, and concealment and revelation in many of the boxes that formed this project, but in Smith’s the ideas of the inside and outside are made simultaneously present.

The ghost of a work, or rather the ghost of a working gesture living as a work.3Marginalia were used in illuminated Medieval manuscripts, as liturgical notes in the margins, but also as written remarks left by copyists commenting on the text, not always in favourable terms. Novelist David Foster Wallace was well known for his side-notes and his hypertext links in, for example, the short story Host (2005). At times these are digressions, but they also a place for the author to obsess about minutiae and split hairs. In an article from the design and architecture magazine Icon from 2010 the addition of the current cafe of the South London Gallery is described; the process of the gallery building absorbing the house next to it to place its more domestic and social functions within it. The article describes a piece by Smith that I did not know about, an image of a window scratched into a wall, and how this piece survives plastering and painting and continues to present a window looking out on to nothing.