Catherine Dormor — Material Matrices

In exploring the relationship of textiles and weaving arts to drawing, I’m reading textile artist Catherine Dormor’s thesis, “Material Matrices: haptic, scopic, and textile.” An excerpt:

Aristotle, in De Anima (c.350BC) established a hierarchy of the senses which positioned sight as the superior sense and touch as the most ‘bestial’ and thus at the bottom. Such a hierarchy effectively sets up a system of and for perceiving whereby that which is seen supersedes that which is felt or touched in terms of truth–knowing. In his statement ‘I think, therefore I am’ René Descartes (1637, part IV) separates mind from body and prioritises the mind within that relationship. By extension, then, the abstract becomes prioritised over matter and sight over touch, an occularcentric mode of thought and language that stems from European post–Enlightenment discourses and one that has been traditionally perpetuated by philosophers and theorists of visual culture.

In this, sight enables symbolization and in so doing blinds us to other–sensory experience in spite of scientific developments indicating that embodied perception influences brain development and thus that the relationship between mind and body is far more complex and mutually interdependent.

In locating touch as the lowliest of the senses, its complexity and subtlety are easily lost. Whilst touch does not correspond to a single organ in the same ways as the other senses could be said to, it does operate from highly specialised receptors and nerve endings that can detect a wide variety of information simultaneously. However, touch is not just a way for the self to perceive the world. Through touch I can communicate outwardly and directly: touch is expressive and empathetic and it brings the world and the self into intimate proximity.

In separating and prioritising mind and body, sight and touch, the eye effectively becomes estranged from the skin from within whose folds it operates and, further, produces a dysfunctional relationship between them in the process. This has a particular impact on art practice and art viewing, where such prioritisation suggests a model in which the two activities inhabit different landscapes and knowledge–bases. In this research project I am particularly interested in the impact such separation has in relation to the materiality of artwork and medium. I would contend that for the artist engaged in the predominantly haptic activity of art–making for the predominantly scopic activity of art–viewing, a dysfunctional relationship between haptic and scopic modes of perceiving arises that renders their work mute in favour of the sight of the completed object.

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