Touch Events

This concept of exchange through touch provided a starting point for Benjamin’s reflections on the new media of his time. I believe that it is just as relevant to our own historical moment, after the advent of digital languages of representation.
The print has historically functioned as a mediating image, quickly adapting to new technical inventions, and has served as an important means of communication. In the digital age, the print continues to fulfill these functions, as it adapts to new technologies of representation. Benjamin’s concept of ‘touch’ helps to elucidate the ways in which printmaking as a ‘language’ interacts with other contemporary languages of art, both ‘old’ and ‘new’.
This paper seeks to examine the fluid edges between printmaking and other contemporary practices or ‘languages’ through an investigation of Benjamin’s pre-digital theory. It will establish the relevance of the concept of ‘touch’ to an age of dialogue between the material or haptic and the immaterial or digital. My own artistic practice explores these propositions through its materials, forms and techniques.  The ‘new’ use of old technology, for example, is central to my project ‘Desert Bus Stop’, which I initiated during a residency in Alice Springs, Australia. A bus shelter structure was screen-printed onto a flat surface and reassembled into a 3-dimensional packing-paper-sculpture, suggesting that ‘something essential’ (Benjamin 1923, 70-71) will be delivered.

(Michael Wegerer, Abstract, Impact7-Conference, Monash University Melbourne, 2011)



A trip to Alice Springs allowed me to engage in a project which I established as a participatory public intervention. This initial trip was a starting point from which a more complex project I developed. The work is now titled DESERT BUS STOP. The “Information” collected from this first field trip to Northern Australia was preprocessed in London and later exhibited in Vienna. The installation included some raw materials like the packing-paper-life-size-model, the cling-film-tracing-bag and the photographs taken during the intervention.
The project was spurred from an idea during an invitation to present work at the Charles Darwin University in Alice Springs.  I wrapped a bus stop with plastic cling film and used black marker pens to trace all lines within the structure. Participants were invited to leave notes on the surface. I returned to Europe with a ball of cling film, including all the information of the bus shelter’s structure and graffiti. The shelter’s recreation developed by exposing the transparent cling film including the visitor’s drawings onto silkscreen to be printed back onto the packing paper.  Finally the folding and reconstruction of all separated parts were generated as a copy of the original’s structure. The event became a transformed re-enactment in the gallery space.
This work is based on sets of contradictions. A bus shelter is a point of approach and departure, and as an artwork it references the term “instant monument” where ‘space becomes a place in a particular time, and if time is a place then innumerable places are possible’ [6]. Like many scattered islands, it reflects my personal experience with the participants from Northern Australia. The edges between these islands are places of transition related to the different perspectives in the work’s reading. The idea was to visualize echoes of the event. The re-produced original in the studio space is created of materials, thoughts and skills collected from various places and intermingles with fact and imagination. Finally, the transformation of the work’s outcome is offering the viewer a tangible experience of the narrative which reflects a journey and a process. The various objects and images connected within this project mirror the notion of production and expose meaning that is both personal and local as well as collective and global.
Beyond this interpretation of thoughts the meaning of the object’s embedded context doubles in the process of transformation as an artifact. The bus stop signifies as transition space a place of arrival and departure, like the gallery space which as a place is constituted by a chain of events. The change occurs through the repetition of an event and may affect the mayor categories peoples use when they think about their identity and their reciprocal relation to place. During the intervention on-site I was able to speak to local people. Their thoughts were collected in the form of writings and drawings onto the temporary wrapped structure of the shelter. The representation as reconstructed object showed an altered simulacrum of place. By “similar” I mean that the gallery visitors were gathering around the reconstructed shelter, viewing and discussing thoughts beyond the context of this work. The relationship of these two events is dividing the near and the elsewhere by setting one next to each other.

Contrasting these thoughts I will give a brief overview of my work THE HOCKNEY CHAIR presented 2010 at the Hockney Gallery in London. A chair as art-object is referring to a subject and is related to art-history. Remembering Benjamin’s notion of touch it could be read as a renewed interpretation of languages used by conceptual artists of the 1960s (i.e. Joseph Kosuth, Richard Artschwager or more recently by Lucy Skaer).
My approach was similar to the “Bus Stop Project”, but from a slightly different angle. It was an artistic journey defining the edge between the formal language of an object and the relationship between the 2d and the 3d as well the digital and the analog. The chair was sliced into 500 pieces and cut with a saw. Each piece was mapped and named. All individual pieces and each side were digitally scanned.  The scanned images where reassembled as a diagram and digitally printed. The chair was reassembled and dropped into the gallery space. Presented were the beginning and the end of the process: the timber cubes and the digital-print. The project "Hockney Chair" is an ongoing process. The object's state of flux shifts from material to immaterial and from creation to recreation. A chain of events visualizes Benjamin's thoughts of "translation" and "touch" and I seek to examine handmade 3d pixilation under the magnifying glass of digital reproductions.

My interest in the recreation of events is based on a set of experiences that presented themselves and research regarding contemporary debates about a renewed reality of “Modern” ideas.  An interpretation of the notion of “touch” could bridge the separation of fact and fiction and reconstitute new but altered inventions. Contemporary art practices often regarded as post-disciplinary mirror a renewed modernism and question their relevance in a modified age. Jacques Rancière argues that the process of dividing and intermingling of oppositions is a consequence which reveals the twist of the postmodern “spectacle” in response to the classical avant-garde [7]. This binary position of active and passive is riddled with presuppositions about looking and knowing, watching and acting, appearance and reality. The artwork is turned into a function which can be ‘animated as something other than products designated for financial speculation or mere amusement’ [8].
The “edge” between these concepts defines their slippery distinction and the visual concepts between their relationships. The question is once more: does the renewed interplay between the uses of print related technologies mirror their social needs and proceed to provoke fascination?


[1] Benjamin, Walter; “The Task of the Translator; An Introduction to the Translation of Baudelaire's Tableaux parisiens”,1923, Illuminations pp.70
[2] Ibid., p.80
[3] Ibib., p.70-71; Benjamin’s definition of translation “[…] intends to perform a transmitting function which cannot transmit anything but information – hence something inessential.”
[6] Smithson, Robert; “Collected writings” University of California Press, 1996;  the term “instant monument” was first used in “Entropy and the New Monuments“ (Essay 1966) and  is describing the use of time and space at one single point.
[7] Rancière, Jacques; The Ignorant Schoolmaster, Stanford University Press, 1991
[8] Bourriaud, Nicolas;  Altermodern, Catalogue Introduction, Tate, 2009

(Michael Wegerer, 2011)