Touch-Space: The Tactile Imagination in Contemporary Sculpture

Kirstie Gregory Announcement
United Kingdom
Subject Fields
Contemporary History, Art, Art History & Visual Studies, Research and Methodology, Fine Arts, Cultural History / Studies

10am - 7pm, University of Leeds

Presenting research into the ways in which contemporary artists are interpreting and reimagining tactility.

This conference is the last in a collaborative season of research events programmed by the Henry Moore Institute in partnership with the University of Leeds. The impetus for the research season is the launch of the University of Leeds’ digital exhibition on Herbert Read (1893-1968) and enhancements to its Herbert Read archive.

This one-day conference seeks to examine the continued currency of Read’s assertion that the most important qualities of a sculpture are those which are tactile: its surface, its weight, mass and volume. Read’s contention is not that we need all literally touch a sculpture, but that our ability to imagine these qualities and be moved by them is one of sculpture’s key fascinations.

The twentieth century saw a rich and wide variety of sculpture produced which chimes imaginatively with Read’s words. Examples can be found throughout Fauvism, Vorticism, Cubism, Futurism, Dada and Surrealism, and including work more difficult to categorise such as Kurt Schwitters’ (1887-1948) remarkable small-scale plaster sculptures made in the 1930s and 40s. This continued into the latter half of the century with Claes Oldenburg’s (1929-2022) ‘soft sculptures’, Mike Kelly’s (1954-2012) blankets and stuffed toys, and the felt and fabric work produced by Louise Bourgeois well into the twenty-first century. 


Linda Aloysius, Central Saint Martins and Sphinx International, ‘Touching the Untouchable’

Helen Barff, artist, ‘Navigating Sculptural Stories of Touch’

Martin Elphick, Cotswolds Sculpture Association, ‘What Actually Takes Place'

Kimberley Foster, Goldsmiths, University of London, ‘Can intangible touch become tangible in the art museum? Prosthetic encounters through pedagogical art objects’

Sheila Gaffney, Leeds Arts University, ‘A sculptor’s perspective: owning the ‘touch-space’; modelling the phenomenon from inside the practice’

Samuel Holleran, University of Melbourne, ‘Survival Steel’

Laurence Kavanagh, artist, ‘The Thickness of Surface’

Lana Locke, University of the Arts, London, ‘Rethinking Tactility, Domesticity, Labour and the Female Body’

Sydney Smith, Ashmolean Museum of Art and Archaeology, University of Oxford, ‘Sculpture and the Unheimliche: Brandon Ndife’

Natalie Rudd, University of Birmingham, ‘Points of Contact: Phyllida Barlow’s Shedmesh (1976) and an expanded exploration of touch’

Mia Mai Symonds, practice-led researcher, ‘Haptic sensibilities: a critical revision of touch through everyday fabric’

Ken Wilder, Chelsea and Camberwell Colleges of Art, University of the Arts London, ‘Proprioception and Herbert Read's 'Touch-Space'’

Keynote Lecture: Michael Paraskos, Birkbeck, University of London

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