See with Fingers: Queer Collisions of Opticality and Tactility

“Please don’t touch!” is a warning most are familiar with in the sterile art-viewing setting of the museum. The sensuousness of the paint beckons our fingers to explore as we crave another kind of knowing and understanding than one can achieve with mere retinas and the visual perceptive pathways of the brain. This impulse is taken to new heights in the multimedia abstractions of See with Fingers, a group exhibition curated by visual arts professor Laurel Sparks. Last Thursday, the Sarah Lawrence artistic community came together for the opening of the exhibition, which is dazzling, weird, colorful and complex. All of the works fit the rubric of hanging “paintings” with 3-D elements within an eye-arresting and punchy pseudo-queer aesthetic.

"Silvers", 2013. Acid dyes, watercolor, ash on wool. Anna Betbeze

“Silvers”, 2013. Acid dyes, watercolor, ash on wool. Anna Betbeze


"Sparks", 2013, Acrylic, enamel on wood. Cordy Ryman

“Sparks”, 2013, Acrylic, enamel on wood. Cordy Ryman

Two of the most exciting works were those by Brooklyn-based artist Chris Martin: the glitter-bombed Untitled (2008-2010) and lumpy Landscape (Bumps) (2009). These captivating pieces create dizzyingly strange forms that refuse to be understood or associated; yet they are somehow still decoratively pleasing. In almost all of the works of the show, there is an incorporation of “high” and “low” materials, like with Martin’s neon spray paint or Cordy Ryman’s incorporation of house paint stir sticks in his artfully cobbled piece, Sparks (2013). This material “hybrid, in between space” is what curator and artist Laurel Sparks took interest in for finding the artworks included in the show. “It’s a longstanding interest of mine, in these experimental artists that refuse to be pigeonholed as just painters or just sculptors,” explains Sparks.


"Landscape (Bumps)", 2009, Oil, spray paint, polymer medium and collage on canvas. Chris Martin

“Landscape (Bumps)”, 2009, Oil, spray paint, polymer medium and collage on canvas. Chris Martin

Most of the show’s works are presented in pairs by the same artist and take on a reading as diptychs, and as such, provide another layer of binarism to echo the themes of duality and queerness present throughout the exhibit. I say queer not only to connote a sexual or gendered reading of the works (which is there, subconsciously) but also queer as in Twilight Zone, queer as in, “What am I looking at?”, queer as in uncomfortably implacable. A queered reading allows for the transcending of straightforward understandings and unsatisfactory categorizations, and indeed, one cannot evaluate these works only as paintings or only as sculptures. Tellingly, the term transmedia is used in the show’s press release, a much more apt non-category for these hanging, semi-flat-but-certainly-dimensional painted sculptural pieces.

Works shows by: Lauren Luloff, Jane Fox Hipple, Eve Lateiner

Works shows by: Lauren Luloff, Jane Fox Hipple, Eve Lateiner

The forms protruding from the picture plane differ greatly between works: some are anthropomorphic and bodily (squishy, skin-like), others recall mundanely domestic and familiar textures (of wallpaper, of a bookcase), while many reference the textile nature of the canvas fabric itself. Dimensionality has always been a problematic and theme of exploration in painting, in both the substantiality of the paint itself and the object quality of a painted canvas, ie. paint on fabric stretched around wooden bars. Regarding 2-D works always involves a suspension of belief, the viewer willfully immersing their experience in the image before them while never quite being able to blind themselves to the tactility of the thing they are regarding. See with Fingers addresses these concerns headfirst, presenting multiple fantastic collisions of tactility and visuality, where the line between the sensual and the optical is blurred, toyed with and transcended.

"Untitled", 2010, Oil, Spray Paint, Pencil on Canvas. Yevgeniya Baras

“Untitled”, 2010, Oil, Spray Paint, Pencil on Canvas. Yevgeniya Baras



See with Fingers is a group exhibition curated by Laurel Sparks, featuring work by Yevgeniya Baras, Anna Betbeze, Sue Havens, Jane Fox Hipple, Eve Lateiner, Lauren Luloff, Chris Martin, Cordy Ryman, Laurel Sparks and Nancy Shaver.

It is on view at the Barbara Walters Gallery from November 21st to December 20th, 2013.

An exhibition catalogue is forthcoming, featuring essays by Laurel Sparks and Montana Jaro ’14, with design and layout by Kaitlyn Laurie ’14 and Rachel Potter ’14, and overseen by Janine Ryan.

All photo credit: Amit Sankaran ’17


Audrey Irving is a junior student, Seattle native, and Virgo (Scorpio rising). She studies Art and Visual Culture, works at a contemporary art gallery in Brooklyn, and is majorly obsessed with pugs.

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