Wednesday, May 20, 2020

Fabricated Interactions During Social Distance: Stacey Holloway

Stacey Holloway
Fabricated Interactions
Sculpture; multimedia
Stacey Holloaway. Back Scratcher
Overview: Artist Stacey Holloway has created a delightful series of kinetic sculptural works that speak to our current predicament during the Covid-19 crisis, allowing users to simulate physical interaction with one another while maintaining social distance. She details these in a brief YouTube video:

The works include a nose-touching device (to emulate the Inuit practice of 'touching noses'), a rather Rube Goldberg looking device that allows one to shake an extended artificial hand,  an extended artificial pair of lips attached to an old turntable, to mimic a grandmother's kiss; a mini trampoline object that allows mimicking of athletes slapping palms in a high five; and even a kind of brace with an artificial hand, attached to a user's arm, allowing for the simulation of holding hands with a friend or lover.

More works are on view on Holloways's website at

including a device that pats you on the back;  a bicycle-powered back scratcher;  an artificial tug of war;  artificial fingers that tickle you; a hugging machine, and so forth

Stacey Holloway.  High Five.
Pamela Allara:  Humor and inventiveness: two things we could use right now as we deal with the personal anxiety and stress from the pandemic. Humor and inventiveness have also been sorely lacking in art works that have responded to the pandemic, which far too often feature heroic depictions of nurses or other ready to hand images.

Art that celebrates the resilience and imagination of the public at large is to itself be celebrated. Stacey Holloway, an Assistant Professor of Sculpture at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, has occupied her time making one sculpture every 2-3 days during the lockdown. Her motivation was the recognition that everyone has the desire to interact with each other, to be in close proximity, that fundamental need Rashid Johnson addressed in his work as well. Isolated in her studio, Holloway assembled many interactive artworks from materials at hand that bridge social distancing and permit interaction, albeit with sculptural substitutions for the human body parts: hands, arms and lips. These wonderful contraptions mimic social interaction, reminding us once again of the central role hands play in human interaction: in this case via high-five’s, handshakes, and holding hands. But as a grandma, my favorite is her overly-enthusiastic prosthetic grandma greeting: combination kiss and hard slap that serves as a warning not to assume that enveloping physical affection will always be happily received.

Ellen Schattschneider:  I find it fascinating that Holloway does not present artificial faces in this series of work. In this sense her contrivances are different from classic mechanical automata, which usually mimic the whole essence of a person while achieving miraculous simulations of personhood.  For Georg Simmel, the spiritual and artistic value of the human face lies in its extraordinary integration of diverse capacities, in order to mirror the rapidly shifting facial features of the interlocutor  Holloway, in a playful way, is disassembling the body down to its various extensions-- arms, hands, fingers, lips, and so forth, so that we are both given a reminder of the pleasures of touch, while emphatically reminded at the same time of what is thoroughly lacking, the presence of another person.

I suspect these objects hover, in psychoanalytic terms, between fetishes and transitional objects. Like fetishes, they are highly focused on specific, reduced bodily referents, divorced from actual people. Like transitional objects (such as a toddler's security blanket), they are condensed or compressed loci of remembered intimate bodily connection (first and foremost, the maternal breast), as the developing child necessarily detaches herself from complete dependence on the primary caregiver, while bravely venturing forth into the world, still suffused with the warm glow of belonging-ness.  All of us, under conditions of the Lockdown, are rather like little children abruptly weaned, deprived of the bodily contact that defined us, and all of us long for kinetic, physical substitutes, not matter how hilariously artificial and contrived they might be!

Mark Auslander: Beyond the absence of faces noted by Ellen, another intriguing aspect of this series of work is that all these objects exist in a kind of double status of isolation. Not only are they "about" physical isolation, existing under the current protocols of social distancing that forbid physical interaction with other persons, but even the objects themselves cannot be viewed, or touched, in person, at least not for the time being.  We only come to know of them digitally and virtually, through viewing them on the artist's website and social media, especially YouTuhe. Hence, we engage a double act of interpolation as we view them: we not only imagine there is another "person" there, with the artificial lips standing metonymically for an entire grandmother, or the mini trampoline hand standing in for the imagined teammate, but we also imagine we are there to play with the objects. The visually recorded artist's body, being kissed, or having her back scratched or high fiving the mini trampoline, is the stand-in for the viewer, separated from the artist-object dyad through a gulf of space and time, knowable only across a screen.  Thus, these are what might be termed multiplied prosthetic simulacra -- we have to imagine even the physicality of a simulated kinetic object which is not really touchable and graspable, which cannot in any sense respond to our foot pressing a lever or our hand slapping a spring.  So we have to play the YouTube video again and again, on our phones and laptops, sitting on our couches at home, letting the artist again and again reach up and hi-five the mounted trampoline on our behalf. They are, to paraphrase Walter Benjamin, mechanically (or digitally) reproduced echoes of an aura.

And yet, as Ellen, we long so much for the touch of the other, in our time of post-childhood weaning, that we still wish we could reach out and touch these manifestly unreal simulations of what real touch would be like. That seems to be source of the structure of pleasure, of the unruly humor here, which so drastically collapses the normal distinction between normally distinct categories, between human and non human, animate and inaminate, real and contrived, near and far, presence and absence, tacticity and illusion. Each object is so blatantly unreal, a distant mirror of our bodily extensions, which can't even actually touch or see them up close,  and yet we still love them, and feel strangely close to them. That paradox, in all in its hilarity, speaks to the strange theatrical space we now occupy, most of our days and nights, confined within our dwellings in the age of the lockdown.

1 comment: