During the summer of 2020, Cypriot artist Othonas Charalambous was an artist in residence at Phytorio – Visual Artists Association, where he began developing the first installment of Disrupting the Haptic Continuum. The artist’s current project explores the nuanced relationships that dwell between skin and surface, touch and perception, and their capacity to communicate tactile experiences through reconfigurations of matter or suggestions of sensory transmutation. Seemingly two dimensional sculptures in leather are developed by reconfiguring physical matter to flat surfaces through sensory interactions aimed to collect nuances of tactile immersion, avoidance, fear and withdrawal as material records.
‘A Tactile Crisis: Disrupting the Haptic Continuum’ by Othonas Charalambous
If the skin on our hands is our primary point of contact with the world, of sensing and of knowing, what can we expect to happen when the tactile sense begins to malfunction? Our skin is the body’s largest organ, responsible for the protection of everything that lies within it and outermost barrier between ourselves and what surrounds us. As we adjust to acting against our skin’s own impulse to immerse itself on a surface, our grasp to instinctively seek assurance on a staircase handrail, on any support rails, any handles, our fingers to curiously slip into cavities and holes, our palms to press firmly on tables and counters, the viral ‘threat’ remains something imperceptible to our skin; the presence, or existence of harmful, even lethal bacteria is something that still does not register on the surface of our enveloping membrane.
The tactile sense is malfunctioning, hands are malfunctioning, skin is malfunctioning; the properties of the tactile sense are not advanced enough, not as advanced as they should be. Not advanced enough. Not enough. The skin does not know that which the lungs can feel, it cannot perceive its own potential source of destruction. Yet it has the capacity to acquire, carry and transfer the threat itself, becoming a vessel for it, whilst still remaining unaware of it.
What is brought to the forefront and placed under the microscope is a harrowing connection we have been trained to avoid, between flesh and dangers that dwell on the infinity of its encircling surfaces. Rather, the fact that fleshy pleasures are capable of bringing on to the living body the very thing that may destroy it. Sudden heightened caution combined with growing suspicion towards surfaces themselves leads to a state of hyperanxiety brought on by hypervigilance. Hypervigilance is described as a state of ‘increased alertness’ which although existed before the arrival of Covid-19 comes to embody the conditions that have since developed following its emergence.
As the Covid-19 data is constantly updated online in real time there is universal access to information around the virus concerning each country, city, age number, gender; spawning a state of hysteria at the face of not death itself but the indefinite denial of all fleshy pleasures. Flesh is dangerous; in fact, flesh is deadly. One’s flesh can be deadly for another. The skin on one’s hands is a weapon that destroys the lungs of another, their respiratory system, their very breathing. Pending tactile hysteria in danger of erupting in the event of the slightest contact, the moment of an accidental shoulder rub or any automated gesture.
As our hands’ role in perceiving and knowing the world around us is severely limited by covering our hands and withdrawing them from the most fundamental processes of engagement we feel inclined to ask if it was reckless relying on them in the first place; whether it might have been possible for us to have misused or abused our means of access to the haptic continuum in an effort to enhance sensory satisfaction. That is to say whether we have overindulged in the satisfaction of our reliance on our skin’s own ability to defend and to shield, always winning each battle against surfaces and never thought as capable of losing one.
Ultimately, since our own instincts turn against us they poignantly lead us to question our collective abilities of detrimental decision making, urging us to redefine the very way in which we use our hands not in order to know the physical world, but, in order to avoid it.
Experiencing states of disruption on and through the sense of touch as our hands, and by extension, our skin reconfigure their very function from agents facilitating the act of touch to agents that touch whilst avoiding to touch, hesitating to touch and unavoidably becoming fearful of touch. Desire and avoidance. Immersion and withdrawal. Utopias of tactile immersion, of leaning into touch, of indulgence in a sense that is now in a process of being closely monitored, regulated and policed.
as survival mechanism;
A physical avoidance
of confronting corporeality itself
reveals a new corporality, now driven by fear.
About the Artist
Othonas Charalambous is a visual artist and writer based in Nicosia, Cyprus. He holds an MA from the University of the Arts, London graduating in 2014. Drawing on his background in fashion design and technology, Charalambous’ artistic practice utilises conventions, techniques and methodologies used within different strands of fashion to explore nuanced relationships between spatiotemporal narratives and objecthood.