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Touchy Feely

“Hold me now, warm my heart, stay with me” Thompson Twins


Take a look at the first image. This a piece by artist Ashleigh Taupaki, an artist based in New Zealand. Ashleigh’s art works are all about holding, caring and cradling fragility and ephemerality such as the slight things of nature that we easily ignore: a shell, a small pebble, soil.


Straight after Boris’s lockdown announcement, I had a zoom meeting with artists from New Zealand about our forthcoming exhibition, in which Ashleigh and I are collaborating. During our conversation, one artist said to another that if she was to visit a certain gallery in Auckland, she was sure to get a warm welcome with a cup of tea and a hug.


A hug??? I found myself in shock at this idea and this told me not only about the state of New Zealand but about my own state after ten months of the pandemic. I was amazed at my instant horror, followed by jealousy and wistful desire for such an experience. How I miss hugs! Hugs from my friends, hugs of welcome, of goodbye, of concern, of understanding, of ‘I’m here for you’.


The second image shows an older work of mine called Cradle. It’s based on a tombstone in my local cemetery on which there is a full-sized sculpture of a woman holding her baby. This monument depicts the tender relationship of mother and child through the action of cradling. I have seen this grave in all circumstances, when covered with snow, when locals have added graffiti glasses to both figures, and as the slow erosion of acid rain has taken its toll. It is an enduring testament to love and care.


I was recently looking for images of hands on the internet and came across a series of sculptures called The Welcoming Hands by Louise Bourgeois that I had not encountered before. They depict hands holding another’s hands and are modelled on her own and those of her long-time friend. Their simplicity and tenderness are extremely moving and feel even more poignant in our current times, when touch feels so policed. Even more so, when knowing the main canon of her prestigious and prolific art career which often engenders a feeling of discomfort or dis-ease in the viewer, rather than the exquisite kindness of these bronzes.


We all need touch, we all need to be cradled, we all need care. It is a human requirement. Even those with severe autism respond to careful and directed touch. In my work at a day centre for adults with disabilities I have often witnessed the effect that trained carers can have on a distressed person with autism by the use of strong and persistent touch.


In a new artwork I am making, I have invited people to reflect on the experience of the pandemic. One contributor talked about her three months isolation as she contracted covid right at the start of lockdown and lives alone. She says “even when I was better, I still couldn't touch another human until I formed a social bubble after nearly six months. The forced isolation was so hard - I never thought I would become a tree-hugger! But hugging trees & nature walks became a real lifeline”. During that first lockdown, my sister who lives in Scotland and who I miss terribly sent me a card with a picture of two people holding one another. It simply says, ‘a wee hug’. I have put it on my desk so that every time I sit down to work, I read and see it and the intention it represents warms my heart. At this time we need to find ways of remembering and responding to the hope that we will be held, and we are held both in the heart of those we love and love us and in the heart of the divine. I hope you find someone or something to cradle you in this time.



Meditative Action:

You will need your hands. This meditation is based on the Indonesian Finger Hold.

- Sit comfortably with your feet placed flat on the floor. Rest your hands in your lap

- Take a couple of breaths, try to slow them down and become aware of your breath

- Using your most preferred (writing) hand, take hold of the thumb and fingers of your other hand in turn, as in the picture below. As you hold each digit and breath out slowly, let go mentally of a negative emotion. As you breath in, accept a positive emotion. The diagram below has suggestions for different emotions for each digit.

- Finally, hold your whole hand in the preferred hand and give yourself an imaginary caring hug.


This meditation is commissioned by Leeds Methodist Mission

https://leedsmethodistmission.co.uk/blog/

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