Tuesday, 3 July 2012

Poetry from Art at Tate Modern: Touch Tour in Poetry and Dream 2012

On our fourth session of my Image-Making: Shaping Poems course at Tate Modern we were given a Touch Tour by Marcus Dickey Horley, who usually only does this for partially sighted or blind visitors. We got to touch the three sculptures available for this tour at Tate Modern: Alberto Giacometti's Walking Woman, Henri Laurens' Autumn and David Smith's Home of the Welder, or 'the man's doll's house' as we nicknamed it.

Four of us at a time could touch the bronze
Autumn by Henri Laurens. Touching can only be done through lint free gloves but it's amazing how much you can feel through them. To write about the experience I handed out my Mental Imagery list of eight senses: sight, touch, hearing, taste, smell, the organic or inner body sense, kinesthesia and synesthesia. I also brought Keats' 'Ode to Autumn'.

Here is Marcus introducing us to David Smith's Home of the Welder, behind him, so fragile (like a man's doll's house) that only one of us at a time could feel it.

Karen McCarthy Woolf touching Home of the Welder which is welded together.

 Only two of us at a time could touch Giacometti's bronze Walking Woman, she is so thin! At one point Giacometti had given her arms and a head; one arm ended in feathers and the other in flowers, and her head was a cello. This was while she was still made of plaster. The final cast form is classic and archaic, and we discussed Tishani Doshi's poem 'Ode to the Walking Woman' where she becomes various ancient earth and sky goddesses, including Astarte, Cybele, and figures from a 3000BC archaelogical site in Pakistan, who are invited to "Sit / you must be tired" and "resurrect yourself, /make love to the sky, / reclaim the world."

Autumn by Henri Laurens (Bronze, 1948)


  1. it was great being able to touch the sculptures. thanks!!

  2. My favourite day of the course so far as it was wonderful to get our hands on the sculptures. How I wish I could make them so it gave a sense of how that might feel. I particularly liked the Giacometti although I'm not sure why it made such an impression and why the woman came to life from such a minimal representation. Autumn is also glorious. Perhaps best of all are the faces of total absorption of all the people touching the sculptures. And Marcus has a wonderful and contagious laugh to punctuate his fascinating descriptions. Thanks Pascale.

    1. Hi Sonia and Adele, thanks for your feedback, which is good to know. I forgot to take pics during the Giacometti touching, damn! Would have made a good picture, two at a time, one either side of her. Marcus is wonderful, I think, so knowledgeable and enthusiastic. Some poeple did have expressions of rapture when touching the sculptures, but also absorption in the unique experience! It was good having the little Giacometti to pass around too.

      My favourite session was the butterflies in Hirst, because I love butterfly houses and having those tropical creatures I've seen in the Amazon right up close. I didn't have much touching time myself with this session as time was short.

  3. Great post. Thanks for all the photos. I've been hearing great things about the course from one of your students :-) I like your list of 8 senses. Can you describe to me what you mean by the organic/inner body sense? When people touched the statues...did they keep their eyes closed...for some or all of the time?

  4. Thanks Elly. By the organic or inner body sense I mean sensations from within the body, such as breathing, pulse, digestion, being relaxed or tense in muscles, and also how these can affect the outer world. If you consider Keats' Ode to a Nightingale, the way in that poem the outer darkened world contracts and expands from the organic sense of the poet's inner sensations until the poet is the outer world (but comes to from his trance at the end).

    I have a list of the eight senses in more detail on the Mslexia site, in one of my online poetry workshops, also on the Guardian site, when I did an online workshop there back in 2006.

    I did notice that some people closed their eyes when feeling the sculptures, but they did not have to, so not all the time. It would have taken too long; our session is only one and a half hours long and the group large, about 23 there. To do it blindfold, as I believe Marcus has done with small groups, they would have all had to touch one at a time.

    1. It was only this week that I tracked down the Mslexia and Guardian references and read them. You've got my wheels turning :-) I'm going to start with the your "poetry from art" workshop #1. And I've just re-read your INTERESTING comments about the Keats' poem. Which I'm not sure I've actually read before...until now. I just googled and read it twice, thinking about what you said. So, I will start that exercise #1 tomorrow and see where it leads me. Thanks very much Pascale.