Art that you just want to reach out and pet

The new exhibition Touch Screen trades digital interfaces for tactile beauty.

The works in Touch Screen, the upcoming group show at Galerie Antoine Ertaskiran curated by Brian Sholis and Julia Dault, are all so pleasing to look at that they can be easy to brush off as pretty. It’s as if they’re too slick, like a summer blockbuster. But, make a few inquiries about the photographers, painters and textile artist in question and you’ll soon discover a number of surprising complexities.

To begin, that smooth and polished quality of the works — the thing that is both disarming and arousing of a certain cynical suspicion — is not the result of heavy digital post-production but instead the product of painstaking analogue processes.

Take for instance “Dimensions,” a print by the photographer Hannah Whitaker. At first it looks like a rather lovingly constructed band poster, minus the graphics, but it certainly seems like something assembled digitally. Yet, while all those repeating lines you see reference a digital aesthetic, they’re constructed using a meticulous physical process involving, as Sholis pointed out, “little metal grates or other things that impose geometric patterns.” This knowledge, even staring at the image online, appreciably changes how you view “Dimensions.” It begins to manifest as an imagined object with depth and somehow even a sense of speed, as if it possesses, well, more dimensions than you’d thought.

Touch Screen is also totally without digital interfaces. Rather, the curators take screen to connote a threshold, a “precipice,” or an entry point. Dault is a painter first, and is in fact represented by Galerie Antoine Ertaskiran, though her work doesn’t appear in this show. When you look at her paintings however, it’s easy to see the kinship between her work and the artists she and Sholis chose for Touch Screen, especially in the way layered surfaces in her paintings seemingly recede and collide all at once along a mostly even plane. Part of this is in fact because Dault uses “unconventional materials, textiles, perforated leather,” so her compositions resist the flatness of the jpegs through which we consume so much visual culture.

She describes the works in Touch Screen as having “a haptic quality…they reveal a lot more when you stand in front of them.” In other words, unlike a digital screen, you’ll want to reach out and pet these paintings, your kinesthetic curiosity controlled only by the social contract enforced by the stern gazes of gallery attendants.

Both Sholis and Dault are keen to emphasize that the works by these artists just feel right together. Sholis describes it as a “magnetic attraction, a kind of gravitational force between them.” Dault meanwhile talks about “the resonance” that comes from the artists’ labour-intensive methods. There may be a tactile beauty abounding, but don’t worry, it’s the kind that’s hard won. ■

Touch Screen opens at Galerie Antoine Ertaskiran (1892 Payette) on Wednesday, July 10 (vernissage 5–8 p.m., free) and continues until Aug. 17.