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Issue 74

Longing to Touch

Phyllida Barlow compares stills from the film Mandy to highlight the intimacy of Eva Hesse's Connection

BY Phyllida Barlow in One Takes , Opinion | 04 APR 03

In this still from the film Mandy (1952), the story of a deaf-mute child, the balloon is a prop for an unseen experience. Its vibrating surface can be touched; the vocal noises passing between Mandy and her remarkable teacher become tactile messengers - links between silence and sound.

This image reminds me of Eva Hesse's Connection (1969), which lured me into its dangling shards of resin-impregnated fibreglass. Although vision is the primary experience, secondary is the urgent need to touch, and the denial of this instinct provokes an irresistible longing. But the act of touching would destroy this feeling, unlike sensing the coded information inherent in the balloon's skin. If vibration is a tactile language for sound, then what is the language for the longing to touch? Does seeing become redundant, overruled by this unrequited desire?

Alexander Mackendrick, Mandy, 1952, film still. Courtesy: Ealing Studios

Mandy's hands and lips must meet the balloon's surface to sense the vibrations. But Connection claims touch for itself, retaining Hesse's physical act of making embedded within it, and I am left with a paradoxical feeling of lure and denial.

The metaphorical temperature of touch is equally disconcerting; Connection is apparently hot with it. The deception is that the toxicity of the resin from which it is made would have restricted the work's handling during its manufacture. Connection is metaphorically cold. Not touching it stops me from completing my experience of the work. Seeing is suspended, transforming my desire into imagined sensations: the act of actually touching Connection is speculative and undisclosed. But for Mandy touch is sound; it must disclose: for her it is the difference between isolation and a world beyond.

Main image: Black and white of old vintage televisions pile in the room, undated. Courtesy: Pituk Loonhong / Getty Images