Skin, Surfaces, Illusions and Surprises

'Kokon Furniture Double Chair', Jurgen Bey, Droog Design, 1997. Photograph by Bob Goedewagen

'Touch comes before sight, before speech. It is the first language and the last, and it always tells the truth' - Margaret Atwood, The Blind Assassin

We all exist within a 'tyranny of vision'. We assume that 'seeing is believing', that the world can be understood through sight alone. We are bombarded daily by advertising, information and entertainment images. But are we passively looking, rather than really seeing?

Touch actively engages us. It is immediate and involving; it creates a physical connection between ourselves, the world around us and each other. By touching we back up impressions we receive through sight and hearing. In a moment, however, touch can also become overwhelmingly present - an insect bite or blister from a tight shoe can be difficult to ignore.

Touch can reveal truths hidden to our other senses. Part of the way we sense our place in the world is through proprioception, our ability to tell the position and movement of our body. Tests such as the Phantom Hand experiment, which you can try in the Games area, show that sending different visual and tactile signals to the body can easily confuse us - we begin to lose our sense of where our body is in space. Similarly, we can sometimes 'feel' strong sensations felt by another person - for example if we see someone fall and scrape their knee.

When we see objects, we expect them to feel a certain way - from the softness of wool to the cool of steel or porcelain. Many designers in the show use familiar objects and materials with a twist. They want you to experience a physical as well as visual response. You find that objects do not always feel or react as you thought they would. From Jurgen Bey's Kokon Double Chair to Gitta Gschwendtner and Fiona Davidson's Fruit Cushion, the materials used create disconnections between look and feel. Surfaces masquerade as other materials. Hard materials look soft, soft look hard. It is only by touching that the truth is revealed.