Touch the Art

Martin Morehouse is a real softy.

His show at Leedy-Voulkos — The Snug Sensation — is an installation of pounding, purring, vibrating white vinyl columns that can be fully experienced only if they’re hugged. When you’re just standing around in the gallery, not hugging the art, the punching-bag-like sculptures make noises that are subtle and ambient, like sound dampened underwater.

Actually hugging one of these slightly human-feeling structures — wrapping your arms around one and sort of, um, cuddling? — you hear and feel vibrations made by electromagnetic recordings of muscles contracting as well as low-frequency recordings of a cat purring, a heartbeat, a truck engine idling and a refrigerator humming. It’s like resting your head on someone’s chest and hearing a heartbeat from deep within. In the case of this feely art show, however, it’s as though the heartbeat has a volume knob and you’ve turned it waaaaaay up.

Morehouse intended for his physical forms to be “squeezable.” Apparently they’re quite pretty inside but sort of skeletal, too, made of discs and wooden cages that Morehouse says are like boats. (We envision them to be more like rib cages.) As an artist, it was hard for him to cover the works in their vinyl sheaths. But installing sculptures that weren’t soft and huggable would have made it harder to convince people to play along.

During October’s First Friday opening, it was disarming and oddly enjoyable to be in a room full of people hugging things. Gallery employee Amy Kennedy had repainted all the columns in the white room so that errant specks and marks wouldn’t be distracting for people. This resulted in a number of viewers accidentally hugging the building’s support system. A lot of foundation and rouge were left behind on the sculptures — the mark of their having gotten a little too much sweet lovin’.

One viewer took his invitation to physically interact with the art to the extreme, jumping up on a vinyl column suspended from the ceiling and hanging on for dear life, his legs wrapped around the thing. “I was just like, um, maybe get off it?” Morehouse recalls.

Surprisingly, though, the artist’s favorite reaction was from a couple trying to figure out whether this was art or something that had come from Ikea. They determined that the objects had been made by Ikea, and Morehouse was giddy at the prospect. “If only Ikea would sell them!”

Categories: Art, News