Texture Matters. The Optical and the Haptical in Media

Project directors: Univ.-Prof. Dr. Klemens Gruber, Univ.-Prof. Antonia Lant, Ph.D.
Researchers: Mag. Ulla Bartel, BSc, Jana Herwig, M.A., Mag. Alexandra Seibel, M.A., Ph.D., MMag. Fabian Ziegler
Duration: 01.05.2011–31.03.2016
Funding body: FWF Translational Brainpower/Research Programm

Project description:

This project assesses the history, and the consequences, of a theoretical landscape that has been with us for over a century, namely the paradigm of the haptical and the optical. This line of reasoning proposes that, in seeing, the eye deploys the organ of touch as well as vision, and that works of art are constructed in relation to this dynamic.
This three-year project argues for the importance of the tactile sense, and its corollary, texture, in the history of the visual media. The project examines film sets, costumes, and auditoria; the influence of textile collections and inventions of new textiles in relation to accounts of perception in the visual arts; the arrival of the remote control in television, and other devices; and the notion of the interface, especially as it pre-dates digital culture. Lastly, we tie this study of a distinction between tactile and optical faculties to current energetic efforts to evoke texture in digital media.

The project researches the long and varied careers of these twinned ideas (in the work of Alois Riegl, Walter Benjamin, Marshall McLuhan, the Bauhaus Foundation course, and Vladimir Tatlin, among others), and evaluates their continued importance, offering an archaeology for our current fascination with media touch sensations.  We organize the research into two strands: the historiography and genealogy of the haptical/optical pathway; and an investigation of key historical manifestations of texture understood as an integral part of media production, including the tactile cinema auditorium, film’s textures in motion, and touch at the interface of new media.  Via these vectors of research, the project illuminates how the two terms – haptical and optical – grew from their beginnings as visual-cultural categories, primarily tied to quotidian design, architecture, sculpture, and painting, into evoking our very own new media environment. 

The research team, led by Univ.-Prof. Dr. Klemens Gruber, will draw on a number of significant archives, and a wealth of Austrian university know-how, as well as on the expertise of a foreign adviser, Prof. Antonia Lant, Ph.D. Workshops and a course will provide the testing ground for ideas en route, while the results will be disseminated through publications, a mid-term conference, and a website. 

For more information: texturematters.univie.ac.at