On Touching is, perhaps, best experienced as a clean slate. Forged by creative studio Intermedio, the performance — as part of This Time Tomorrow’s festival lineup — is a surreal one.
Made up of Justin West, Sam Ferris-Morris and Eric Blyth, Intermedio enlisted the help of two others for On Touching: Erin Sansalone and Ashley Walton.
During last year’s FotoFocus Biennial, I saw their work In Place of Forgetting, which came in the form of an inflated walk-in igloo-esque structure. Inside sat suspended boxes that, when opened, revealed dissonant voices and sounds.
On Touching was similar in that it intersected sound, space and light. But it leaned deeper into those abstractions. Here’s the gist: Each audience member is given an open-back garment with speakers, small lights and touch sensors. They can touch the garments in pointed locations to trigger light patterns or sounds — which can be communally or individually activated.
I attended the event twice — once as an observer and the next as a participant. After a brief rundown of how the garments work and a few guidelines to follow, we were led into a starkly dark room, where we sat at stools arranged in a circle with an inner, middle and outer layer. In the center, a singular bulb dangled from above. At times it would pulse, bathing the space in dim orange light.
Throughout, flashes of blue and green — per the garments — would pierce the room as fragmented notes and voices rose, clashed and melded together; they did so as we tapped our chests or clasped either our own wrists or our neighbor's. With each movement, another sound emerged, sometimes sustained and other times ephemeral. Isolated notes chirped; hums permeated; records scratched; voices murmured. At times, ambient seaside sounds crashed over the space. In the dark environment, these moments seemingly tapped into a collective dreamscape.
Despite having a structure laid out, On Touching felt organic. The longer the performance trailed on, the more I felt immersed in its ever-shifting environment — and I sensed those around me did too. As we sunk into the atmosphere, we connected with each other not through words but through our movements. And in doing so, we created something greater: an environment crafted by the sum of its parts.
Intermedio's On Touching is part of the Contemporary Art Center's inaugural This Time Tomorrow festival. For more information/dates, visit thistimetmrw.com. For our preview story on the festival, click here.