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Tactile Sensibilities of Anni Albers


Two weeks ago, I went to see the Anni Albers exhibition currently on at the Tate Modern. Meeting Anni’s works was an inspirational experience. I stumbled across her book On Weaving while I was in my second year in CSM, and was already deeply inspired by her every word as a weave student. Being able to put my face as close as I could to Anni’s works on display, I’ve re-realised how bold she was with her materials and how fluent she was with her tactile expressions. Now re-reading Anni’s book, I am again inspired by her chapter on ‘Tactile Sensibility.’ This chapter in some ways inspired me to “get my hands dirty” and understand the materials that I’ve chosen to work with. I now step aside to let Anni speak and allow you to become enriched with her thoughts:

“All progress, so it seems, is coupled to regression elsewhere. We have advanced in general, for instance, in regard to verbal articulation – the reading and writing public of today is enormous. But we certainly have grown increasingly insensitive in our perception by touch, the tactile sense.

No wonder a faculty that is so largely unemployed in our daily plodding and bustling is degenerated. Our materials come to us already ground and chipped and crushed and powdered and mixed and sliced, so that only the finale in the long sequence of operations from matter to product is left to us: we merely toast the bread. No need to get our hands into the dough. No need – alas, also little chance – to handle materials, to test their consistency, their density, their lightness, their smoothness. No need for us, either to make our implements, to shape our pots or fashion our knives. Unless we are specialized producers, our contact with materials is rarely more than a contact with the finished product. We remove a cellophane wrapping and there it is – the bacon, or the razor blade, or the pair of nylons. Modern industry saves us endless labor and drudgery; but, Janus-faced, it also bars us from taking part in the forming of material and leaves idle our sense of touch and with it those formative faculties that are stimulated by it.

We touch things to assure ourselves of reality. We touch the objects of our love. We touch the things we form. Our tactile experiences are elemental. If we reduce their range, as we do when we reduce the necessity to form things ourselves, we grow lopsided. We are apt today to overcharge our gray matter with words and pictures, that is, with material already transposed into a certain key, preformulated material, and to fall short in providing for a stimulus that may touch off our creative impulse, such an unformed material, material ‘in the rough.’”

(Excerpt from Anni Alber's book On Weaving, from Chapter 8, pp.62-63)


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