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‘The Hinge which separates & connects’

James Cocks, Ella Mai Downes, Gweni LLwyd, Beth Ellen Roberts Curatorial team: Emily Hartless, Hannah Morgan, Anna Rogers

Courtesy of Deli Rouge, Pen-Y-Wain Rd, Cardiff CF24 4GG

A research space exploring touch, tactility and surface; The Hinge which Separates and Connects, includes artists and designers from, or educated and working in Wales, who have cultivated a ‘sensitivity to material’ in their work. Accumulatively, they acknowledge the subjectivity of touch and construct it in new ways; hinging our understanding on a nostalgia for past sensations and a consistent yearning to experience new ones. Featuring work by James Cocks, Ella Mai Downes, Gweni Llwyd and Beth Elen Roberts, each artist or designer explores elements of touch, tactility and surface, to address our digital, gendered, cultural and historical construction of the senses.

“The reduction of the sensorium into five senses was first determined by Aristotle. But Galen said there was six, Erasmus Darwin though there were 12, and Von Fey reduced them to eight‌. Recent authorities calculate that there are 17 senses.â€? Anthony Synnott, 1993, 1 We are taught to understand our senses in five narrow categories, but how we define and understand the senses is constantly constructed and reconstructed, located within the society or culture in which they are perceived. A reference to the writing of art historian Michael Hatt and the neuroscientist David J Linden; the grouping of artists explores our skin and our sense of touch, as the hinge that separates and connects us to the outside world. 2, 3


One Outside One, 2017.

James Cocks is an artist based in Cardiff, working with text and fabric. His practice explores the tactile and transitional, through texts which encompass advice, motivation and personal stories. By experimenting with text, he explores his own relationship with writing, hoping to get a better understanding of its importance within his process of making. James has exhibited regularly in Cardiff. His most recent solo show Forever Fallow, Forever Flourishing at Spit and Sawdust in September 2017 is linked with The One Outside; which is a development from the earlier show. The One Outside is a work in progress; half dressed, it seeks to chart how tactile moments and transitional objects, not only teach us how to experience life outside of the mother, but how they form our self-expression.


In Touch, 2017.

From Pembrokeshire, Ella Mai Downes is interested and curious about materials. Whilst studying Textile Design at Birmingham University, she concentrated on print and surface design, producing collections of experiential samples. Her work responds to societal and cultural trends, advocating that tactile interaction holds an importance in modern society; a belief formed by working as a material researcher for a London-based material library, sourcing innovative materials for architectural and design work. The work exhibited comprises part of her ‘In Touch’ material collection, surface experiments and trend journal, which were recently shown at New Designers in London and MoOD in Brussels. It explores the consequences of and offers solutions to, the digital revolution and its implications for our relationships to others and ourselves.

3. Pink Fur, 2017. Originally from Y Fron, North Wales, Gweni Llwyd has been based in Cardiff since 2014. Her practice evolves around the mundane, the sensory and the absurd. Utilising memories from her childhood, previous sculptures and online video databases as starting points for artworks, she approaches her practice as a multidisciplinary collage of stuff.

Pink fur transverses the potential of a material; a coloured texture, to be embedded with social, sexual, cultural and historical meaning. It lingers where the boundaries of the material dissolves from real to artificial, and on the twenty first century experiential reality of the sensorial as combined with, or mediated through, the digital.

4. everywhere you notice, how much your opposite, tears & sinks, 2017 Beth Elen Roberts is an artist Anglesey in North Wales, since 2016, she has exhibited widely sculpture residency undertaken

based in London. Originally from graduating from Chelsea College of Art in across the UK and abroad. This includes a in India earlier this year.

Often, Robert’s creates sculptures. Her images and objects draw on older stories and narratives; the legacy of her North Walian farming heritage, Venice’s sinking history and she playfully distorts them into the new and uncanny.

everywhere you notice, how much your opposite, tears & sinks is a response to the artist’s time living and working in Venice over the summer. Recording the different surfaces of the city, she began the process of creation by collaging material to develop her ideas. Her organic process of adding, removing, layering, reflects the notion of this tearing and sinking; the very collision of opposites she observed in the city.

AN UNCONSCIOUS HUMAN IS LOST IN ANOTHER WORLD- A PSYCHIC DIMENSION, A PLACE UNKNOWN THAT FLICKERS BENEATH THE MEMBRANE OF THEIR EYELIDS. A CHILD IS LOST IN A PARK, A FESTIVAL, A ROARING STAMPEDE OF A PARADE. WHAT IS THE FIRST QUESTION YOU ASK? WHAT DO YOU SEE? IT IS OUR ASSUMPTION THAT WE CAN LOCATE OURSELVES AND OTHERS PREDOMINANTLY THROUGH THE SENSE OF SIGHT. HOWEVER, AS VLADIMIR NABOKOV EXPLAINS IN THE GUISE OF HUMBERT HUMBERT IN LOLITA; “IT IS STRANGE THAT THE TACTILE SENSE, WHICH IS SO INFINITELY LESS PRECIOUS TO MEN THAN SIGHT, BECOMES AT CRITICAL MOMENTS OUR MAIN, IF NOT ONLY, HANDLE TO REALITY.”. 4 Nabokov illustrates the common hierarchical disregard for the sense of tactile, through related, but combative trends; • The Greenburgian separatist understanding of art and design, onto which, the emphasis on visual qualities are set as the criteria for a completion of an emotional, aesthetic or social contract. • The sleek, technological driven mass consumer culture, which erases texture and touch, due to economic and aesthetic concerns, for the plastic, shiny and uniform, While highlighting the importance of texture, surface and touch in supporting humanities ability to decode their environmental factors. My research similarly sets out to explore our skin and our sense of touch as the hinge that separates and connects us to the outside world, aims to question our relationship to touch, because continually “seeing’s believing, but feeling’s the truth.”. 5 The artists and designers included in the exhibition do not negotiate or ignore the visual aesthetic; their communal work is rich with colour, light and form. However, they do engage with the material, tactility and surface with a complexity and consideration, which investigates Hatt’s, Linden’s and Nabokov’s concerns, by increasing the understanding of the skin and the nervous system as a permeable boundary interconnected to our environment. The collected work is an insight into a personal formation of an understanding of our external world through an internal narrative, and equally, a social and cultural commentary on our changing relationship to the material. As such, this exhibition runs parallel to a broader interest in reclaiming a “mixophilia of the senses” and the creation of a sensorial urbanism in art and design, by focusing on artists and designers who usurp visuality as our pre-dominant sense.6 This understanding provokes several questions, which the work of artists addresses; -What is the current state of our relationship to tactility, surface and material? -How can art and design document, react and potentially create solutions, to the inter-relationship of the biological and the material? -How can we understand and utilise the surface, tactility and our biological sensitivity to it, to create emotionally and socially charged art and design?

In part, the exhibition’s curation was contextualised through Made in Roath community art festival as a space for socialisation, food-sharing, public engagement and exchange, which lay parallel to the exhibition’s interests in understanding on how and why, our relationship to skin and touch is essential to the human condition, beyond the perimeters of art and design.5 Equally, the location of the artist’s work within Deli Rouge, a public and functional space, layered with inherited history and surface, added to the layers of inter-changeable tactility and allusions to the tactility. Such as, hordes of medical text books on the subject of skin, nerves and dissection and choices of interior design, which became integrated into the display and dialogue of the exhibition. The inter-relationship of art and science historically, opens questions as to why artists and designers, at this particular moment, are investigating the ‘material’ to regain greater insight regarding the biological. The grouping within this research project positions the artists on two levels to answer this question. Firstly, within the context of Wales, as educationally and environmentally, encouraging a greater connection with the material. All the exhibiting artists and designers draw on texture as an instrument of nostalgia. They use surface to evoke and re-create specific memories, related to textural environments, which are directly related to the environmental context of Wales. Downe’s has been trained within and employs the traditional practice of weaving, LLwyd the technique of pebble dashing and Robert’s the farming tools of her North Walian descent. Though, they are subverted, displaced, mutated to create new sensory experiences for the viewing, returning to these experiences as the catalyst for investigation that links their work. This ‘sensitivity to material’ has been solidified by the educational fine art practices in Wales, which draws on lack of a white cube or even purely art environment for artists to research, make and display their work within. By being forced or choose to work outside the boundaries of an art environment. Often due to economic and geographic constraints; the lack of ‘big white walls’ and infrastructure, has led to the development of strands of visual arts practice within Wales which are innovative and socially responsive. Secondly, within the historic advancement in scientific understanding of nerves, tactility, skin and touch as directly encouraging the production of art. The publication and exhibition aims to place the selected artworks into a longer lineage of understanding and investigation that can be traced to the nineteenth century. In the mid 1800’s, the discovery of the nervous systems were elaborated on by artists. The understanding of the surface of the skin as a multi-faceted organ, which communicated with the outside world,8 directly impacted on how art and design were created. Not only did the depiction of the skin change, becoming vital, ‘fleshly’ and indicative of the emotional, social and moral state of those who were portrayed, but the methods in which art was conveyed was consciously evolved.8

it starts with one inside one to one outside one

yet still attached by touch then through tactile moments and transitional objects

the mother’s breast to the blanket to the toy one learns to experience as one alone one transitions from the internal to the external the process begins

a balance established to constantly shift

always repeating and reversing

sometimes others make the choice it’s baby pink and baby blue it’s the former for the boy and the latter for the girl or vice versa

it’s they, as identifiers, forming

your masculinity and femininity regardless of gender or sex

it’s you seeing yourself in the clothes of others the fabric and the clothes and the fabric of the clothes that draws your attention and stays with you that you will forever either think about consciously or have in the back of your mind

it’s influenced

by others and then by you

the you as in the one outside one now alone

for others

then you

Language and tactility

James Cocks reframing of the knowledge and sensibility he built through understanding the nature of fabric, his connection to the softer edges of his material environment, becomes a flattened, coloured text, occupying the wall. But it is not a freezing of fluidity, as the words function like fabric; they drape and hang, cascading down from the sides, the centre, nudging against the margins of the page. Rhythmically marking the patterns with which the thoughts became recorded; his words ask to be spoken, re-churned and repeated, in a mimicry of the very process that gave them life. A marking of the transcendental nature of the tactile, the words are an emotional imprint of our material world onto how we neurologically understand it. In the case of Cock’s work; the use of linguistic qualities to reflect a fuzziness of both ‘tip of the bed’ and ‘the carpet burn’ to the emotional fuzziness, show how our environment constructs a deeper sense of self. Language is intrinsically linked to tactile. If the skin is the hinge between our internal selves and external stimuli; language is the way we attempt to explain to others, these strange and convoluted feelings existing at said boundary. What Cocks’ work draws upon is our sub-conscious understanding of the link between emotion, skin, nerve and environment, which is ever present in the language we use. There is a reason we describe our emotions as “feelings” and discuss the ability to “rub someone the wrong way”, “a sticky situation” or being “touched by someone’ thoughtfulness.”. In this sense, Cocks’ work draws upon an older knowledge and existing framework of linguistic ques, we all have an existing connection to. His work taps into a subconscious knowledge of the interrelationship between the material and the biological we all acknowledge in our daily lives through our use of language; a soft, hazy area of semiotic understanding, that is only just being unravelled by scientific investigation and, which lingers in many works of art. Remarkably reflective of co-current advancements in science, the work responds to an understanding of the human body as shift-able, mutable and impact-able biological structure. His transfer of distinct phrases into T-shirt slogans, with the premise to have them transferred and spread, through the integration with the everyday is an acknowledgement of an interest in how art can impact of the physical.

Cocks, James,


Outside One, 2017.

WHERE ONCE THE HUMAN WAS A STATIC, STATIONARY FIGURE; THE SHEPARD GUARDING A NATURAL HIERARCHY, THE SHIFT TO THE UNDERSTANDING OF THE HUMAN AS ANTHROPOCENE HAS BOTH INCREASED A SENSE OF OUR ABILITY TO CAUSE, AND IN TURN, BE IMPACTED BY ENVIRONMENTAL CHANGE. The understanding of the genetic impact of trauma and other environmental factors, for example, the connection between emotional trauma, displacement and migration, has reframed the understanding of how we relate to our environment. The Babushkas of Chernobyl, chose to value emotional wellbeing by being at home, on the soil that is theirs, even if that soil is toxic.9 Prompting wide scientific discourse, the case of the Babushka’s outliving the environmentally and socially displaced refugees of the nuclear disaster, illustrates the importance of emotion, wellbeing and comfort in environment. As such, the colour blocking of Cocks’ text, his unravelling of gendered language and behaviours, reflects a broader conversation, in our shifting understanding of the self and our environments and a re-thinking of human identity.

Llwyd, Gewni, Pink Fur, 2017, (still and installation view).

Gender, Robots and Tactility Llwyd’s work is equally built upon a tension in the current human condition. By recording texture through a format in which texture is removed, she presents a response to the increasing vacuum in tactile interaction, which describes the socialisation and design of the human condition in the twenty-first century. An influx of materialism, manufactured by the expanse of technological advancement and globalisation is represented in the abundance of textural representation in her work. An unavoidable commentary on sexuality and gender, the concepts of pink and fur exist in a specific locus, which is historically loaded at the intersection of gendered and class connotations. Her work draws out the political, social and particularly, gendered context of our current state, by unravellingour relationship to the locus of ‘pink’ ‘fur’. Both pink and fur have a shifting status that the video traces. While fur has fallen from grace, pink has re-emerged with fervour as interconnected with gendered millennialism. The politic of fur, as an item of luxury and desire, is referenced in the found footage of a model parading a knee length fur for the pleasure of the viewer. The intermingling of skin and fur, as her body, stripped hairless to perform within the heteronormative constructs of desire is layered over by the excessive hair of another animal. The complex relationship of want and revulsion and its specific relationship to the female gender is reinforced, as the screen flickers to represent the plastic disposable razor trailing across an exposed armpit. The imagery is shadowed by its natural relationship to perversion, fakery, death as a material of capitalism. Within the artist’s work this is acknowledged as fluffy animals flit to dead carcasses. However, ultimately, the cross-reference of commodification of the female, frivolity, capitalism and excess place the two combined terms, undeniably as ‘girl.’. This is significant as Llwyd’s commentary on the material illustrates the current state of human condition as caught between hyper materialism and digital cyborgian. The materiality of the work, the untouchable texture, illustrates the increasing absence of said textural in a screen orientated society. This tension is deepened by how the moving images function. When we observe a video, our mirror neurons replicate the emotional and physical experience of the digital situation, unable to thoroughly between the sensorial and the representational. Therefore, as a woman strokes the lavish down of a mink coat, or a woman provocatively caresses the swollen skin of beneath her lovers hair-coated chin, though, we are not having this experience, but some stirring nervous level our body, believes that we are. Throughout the video, as the sound becomes higher, more intense and the string of images expand and dissolve on screen; the petting of the dogs, the shaving of skin, the manipulation of a pink furry ball, all exist as occurring to us.

As such, by occupying a space between digital and bodily physicality, her work foreshadows the Internal/external interface of artificial intelligence, the digital and the impact it will have on our existence; it is an exploration of the grey area in our experiential reality. The importance of the use of this specific material, ‘pink fur’, in the context of the twenty first century, is that it reiterates the robotic and the technological as not a gender neutral space. Created by a patriarchal society, her reflection on these two specific material qualities which are linked to the ‘feminine’ and the ‘girl’, draws out the gendered and sexualised content of the media she has collected and self-produced. Connectedly, as touch is digitised, it remains a gendered, sexually charged and a consumerist tool for patriarchal and capitalist society. This highlights the inequality in the advancements of technology and touch as the Material, which has always been gendered and used for sexual deflection, becomes digital. As Donna Harraway has explored in her treatise on Cyborgian identity, the advancement into the digital era of "women's situation in the advanced technological conditions of postmodern life in the First World.”, the creation of digital demands an intense examination and reformation of how we discuss female identity.10


Llwyd, Gewni, Pink Fur, 2017,

Roberts, Beth Ellen, everywhere you notice, how much your opposite, tears & sinks, 2017 (Installation view). Prints and tactility Robert’s destabilises objects and images of their original purpose and amplifies their shape and texture. Our understanding of the world is to designate a purpose, a name, a function and then engage with a material in the designated fashion. Robert’s work shatters this method of interaction, by establishing familiar shapes and materials in unknown contexts. The work was developed in Venice, drawing from the significant saturation and collection of art and design imagery that accumulates throughout the city. Her method starts with collaging sections of found in infamous Venetian bookshops, images and texts into shapes, which she then re-produces twice; firstly as textured prints, then three-dimensional sculpture, which develop and embolden the materialistic characteristics. Through this process she builds a language of shape and texture, using the vocabulary of the images rephrased into her own syntax. Prints represent the flattening of texture and materialism into a two-dimensional confine. Since the fifteenth century and the invention of the printing press, the spires of churches, the tiles of a mosaic, the tone of a pigment, have been compounded into a distributable format of information; what an exhibition, environment or space may feel like, compressed to a two-dimension within the boundary of a page. This is particular significant within the context of Venice. In which, the surplus of historical and current sensorial experiential, as artists and designers migrate to and through the city, is juxtaposed against the papers, flyers, printsthe de-sensitised documentation that sits in the hotels, guest houses and, of course, book shops of the city. As such, there is a poetic quality to Robert’s resurrection of the tangible and tactile material from the two dimensional. She siphons from this surplus of information a visual language- and then sculptural forms, with a primal clarity and lightness. The three sculptural forms she created for the exhibition as tests and experiments, responded to a need to touch. She drew a sense of the organic material, from a culture of consumerism. A comforting maternal arch, that looks designed to be held and cradled, was paired with small bone-like bamboo towers and a grounded spherical object. All shaped from air-drying clay, the grey tones of the material were accentuated by highlights of white paint. Robert’s placement of the work on a thin pale shelf is reminiscent of the design of mediated spaces. This is comparable to the techniques of Japanese gardeners in transforming organic materials in to refined organisation of their natural qualities,exercising mediated control over space. HER SKILL AT DRAWING LYRICISM FROM NOISE IS A TESTAMENT TO THE IMPORTANCE OF ARTISTS AND DESIGNERS WORK IN CONTROLLING OUR MATERIAL ENVIRONMENTS, THE POTENTIAL POWER OF ART AND DESIGN IN CONTRIBUTING TO SAID ENVIRONMENTS WHEN UTILISED PROPERLY.

Roberts, Beth Ellen, everywhere you notice, how much your opposite, tears & sinks, 2017

Downes, Ella Mai, In Touch, 2017.

Tactility as a solution What the work of Ella Mai Downes iterates is the ultimate, profound and important statement of combining these artists’ work; that art and design does not just reflect back to us, let us see anew our relationship to tactility, but offer solutions over how it can be changed, how it can progress. Starting by re-creating the tactile as a mediation to skin, her research correlates to the work of Llwyd, Roberts and Cocks, because if accumulatively they question how the ‘material’; texture, tactile and surface, implicates our social, sexual, cultural, historic and gendered identity, contemplating how much of our identity is already expressed in the material, Downes’ work examines the future of how these issues could be addressed through design. As such, the exhibition and research is two ends of a book shelf, framing a conversation, which offers solutions over how design will progress as our relationship to the material is transformed. “A woman came to the exhibition. She chattered quietly and wandered loosely around the small space. She picked up Downes’ objects and wacthed Llwyd’s work. She spoke of her father’s dementia, his loss of connection with the world. She saw the art in the office as possible solution to his increasing disconnection.”

Downes, Ella Mai, In Touch, 2017. (Installation view)

1. Synnot, Anthony, The Body Social. Symbolism, Self, and Society, 1993. 2. Hatt, Michael, Near and Far: homoeroticism, labour and Hamo Thornycroft’s Mower, 2003. 3.Linden, David. J, Touch: The science of hand, heart, and mind, 2016. 4. Diaconu. M, Heuberger.E, Mateus-Berr. R, Vosicky LM, Senses and the city: an interdisciplinary approach to urban sensescapes, 2011. Zardini, M, Toward a sensorial urbanism, Sensing the City: A Companion to Urban, April 2016. 5. Rossetti, Dante Gabriel, The Stealthy School of Criticism, The Athenaeum, 1871. Maitland, Thomas,Poems by Dante Gabriel Rossetti, Fifth edition. Pater, Walter, The Renaissance, 1873. Whistler, Ten o’clock lecture, 1885. 6.Vladimir Nabokov, Lolita, 1955. 7.Touch: The science of hand, heart, and mind. 8.MiR, 9.Babushkas of Chernobyl, talks/holly_morris_why_stay_in_chernobyl_ because_it_s_home 10.Harraway, Donna, A Cyborg Manifesto, 1984.

The exhibition served as a research space into touch, tactility and surface, and as a result, the implications of its displacement. It is a commentary on our lack of interaction and an illustration of a twenty first century interest in returning to the bodily and the accompanying emergent narrative about the purpose of art and design. As we advance scientifically, the importance of texture, tactility and surface within contemporary art and design is affirmed as a social and political connection to our emotional and psychological selves.

Ed. Emily Hartless

'Hinge which separates and connects' exhibition catalog  

The exhibition served as a research space into touch, tactility and surface, and as a result, the implications of its displacement. It is a...

'Hinge which separates and connects' exhibition catalog  

The exhibition served as a research space into touch, tactility and surface, and as a result, the implications of its displacement. It is a...