FOREWORD TO ISSUE 3: TOUCH //

Martin Roth, Untitled (Persian Rug) at Capital Gallery, December 2016. Photograph by Christopher Squier.

Martin Roth, Untitled (Persian Rug) at Capital Gallery, December 2016. Photograph by Christopher Squier.

For the current issue of DISSOLVE we examine the theme of haptics—or touch—as it relates to specific sites, spaces, works, and their tangents. As the editors, we began to see touch materialize around us as we wrote—and read—about the various ways it mediates our experience with visual culture and the world. For us, touch was invoked locally in the art galleries and institutions we visited while feeling our way through this issue.

Under the harsh fluorescents of the former Sacramento Street iteration of Capital Gallery[1], soaking in the sunlight afforded by its window front property, is New York-based Austrian artist Martin Roth’s work Untitled (Persian Rug), an indoor lawn he tends to and maintains. The grass is seedy with long, unkempt blades, growing in clumps from the surface of a standard issue, mass-produced Persian rug. The rug is tightly woven, the grass going to seed, but as though it would yield and spring back at the pressure of a shoe, or a bare foot. Invoking touch, the rug and the grass act as a covering, shielding the viewer from the austerity of the hard, gray gallery floor.

Both the texture of the rug and turf invite one to engage touch by sitting and lying upon it. Nevertheless, Untitled is an art object and, as such, touching is off limits. Aside from receptions, the gallery door is locked. One visits, instead, through the gaze and the space’s large glass windows. Touch is obstinately denied, or displaced to a secondary form of touch: the glassy smooth surface of the window rather than the textures inside. Whereas touch is typically denied through museum guidelines and cultural norms, here the denial of touch is materialized as a physical barrier. Touch, when displaced, bars and fragments the experience of the human sensorium. One is returned to the eyes.

Part of the power of touch in visual art is in its imaginative potential. We long to touch because it is contraband, and because we have not had the experience of touching artwork enough times to grow weary of it. Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, Joseph Dwyer, and Juan Pablo Pacheco contemplate the denial of touch in film, art, labor, and the digital realm, untangling displaced tactility, colonial fantasy and fetish, and digital immateriality.

The walls of David Ireland’s house are patinated with a high-gloss polyurethane varnish, preserving the skin of the original interior walls once buried beneath decaying layers of wallpaper.[2] The dark, dim house has accrued a varnish that asks to be touched. The gloss is gooey looking as if, when touched, fingers would come away with snail-mucin. While the exquisitely wrought, oxidised objects that clutter the sideboards and coffee tables are not to be stroked (although they certainly beg to be), you can dally your fingers along the slick walls and floor. David Ireland’s house is often lauded as a living art object, but it is those touchable walls which give its interiority, its visceral vivacity. You can feel the material stretch as you pull your hand away, a ligature connecting you to the breathing edifice.

The walls, fleshy and intimate, are sirens for those of us who long to touch the objects in museums, vitrines, galleries, or any hallowed space. Touch in the gallery or institution can erode the boundaries between art object and subject. In many of our articles, haptics sits at this frontier, mediating our material interactions with works including collage, polished metal, textile, and embroidery. Therefore, in the works of Jackie Valle, Irena Arovsky, and Na Chainkua Reindorf, touch is not simply about the brush of contact, but touch as interiority and dissolution of boundaries. For our cover, Izidora Leber produces chemical reactions on the boundary of thin surfaces, exposing transparent lemon juice ink with an open flame to develop hidden, yet material messages on a sheet of paper. Through touch, both texture and material become diagnostic criteria which offer secondary narratives on a work of art.

Dissolve Magazine is concerned with dissolution (in its myriad of forms), especially in regards to art’s power to erode and build. Tactility divulges the architecture of our inter-actions: between art object and subject; between subjects; between art objects. The issue became a body of work—the sort of body that touches on many objects and disciplines, and in which touch becomes the struggle to discern what’s on the boundaries of (and beyond the extent of) this body. In a harrowingly ocular-centric sphere and world, Dissolve turns to touch as a field of possibility.

Christopher Squier and Julian Wong-Nelson

We would like to thank Kathryn Barulich and Jackie Valle, for thinking with us through this foreword and entire issue; Harper Brokaw-Falbo, Ziying Duan, Carolina Magis Weinberg, and Daniel Melo for their editorial contributions, hard work, and constant criticality; and Maggie, Nolan, Peter, Louis, and Rose, for their patience, humor, and calming canine presence.


  1. http://www.capital.gallery/17.html  ↩

  2. “The House,” 500 Capp Street, accessed 7 February 2017, http://500cappstreet.org/house/.  ↩


Christopher Squier is an artist and curator living in San Francisco. He is an SFAI graduate, currently serves as Programs Director at Embark Arts, and is a lead editor for DISSOLVE Issue 3: Touch.

Julian Wong-Nelson is a San Francisco-based archivist and writer. They write, read, and print as much as possible.