Getting tactile in Smith Gallery

Unlike most art exhibits, “Tact” by Doug Dale ’15 invites viewers to touch the artwork and participate in the artistic process. Featured in Smith Gallery, Dale’s exhibit blurs the lines between visual art and performance art.

“There’s something so primal … about curiosity and exploration,” Dale said. “We’ve moved beyond figuring out what art is and now we can bring in all sorts of materials. So it breaks my heart when someone can walk by a piece and don’t even notice it and I love being able to draw people in to create their own art … I like constantly breathing new life into this piece.”

This summer marks the third consecutive summer for Dale as a security guard at the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art (MASS MoCa), known for its over-the-top pieces and artwork made from outlandish materials. His experiences telling people not to touch the art inspired him to create a more interactive exhibit.

“You don’t really realize how much people want to touch the art until you’re getting paid to tell people not to touch the art,” Dale said.

Dale’s show features tactile pieces which encourage viewers to interact with the exhibit. Photo by Mary Zheng

Dale’s show features tactile pieces which encourage viewers to interact with the exhibit. Photo by Mary Zheng

Though some of the pieces, like the yarn-covered deer, are made of durable materials to withstand the hands of viewers, other pieces can only exist in an interactive space. For example, one of the works is a chalkboard with accompanying chalk in shapes of Dale’s fingers and teeth. Viewers are invited to draw on the chalkboard.

“It’s an accidental psychological experiment,” Dale said. “You give someone an object and you say, ‘You can make whatever you want—you can create something—just know that it’s a) really graphic imagery and b) your creation comes at the expense of mine.’”

Similarly, the projection of braille type is inspired by Dale’s work in the museum world. After witnessing issues of disabilities and accessibility in MASS MoCA, Dale created a work that is a visual projection of braille type and can only be understood if the viewer can both read braille and see. According to Dale, the braille translates to the John Keats 1816 poem, “On First Looking into Chapman’s Homer.”

“I like the theme of translation and how if something is not translated in the right voice, something gets lost in the middle, which kind of fit with the theme,” Dale said.

While he created the exhibit, Dale did not have access to a studio. Because he is only taking a drawing class for the semester, the only storage space Dale had access to was a thin shelf in a classroom and a flat file, forcing Dale to take his work home with him.

“I’ve spent the last two months with a piece of cardboard and just a deer sitting in my room,” Dale said. “There’s yarn in my bed, there’s plaster all over my bookshelves.”

Despite these limitations, Dale has plans to continue his work with sculpture. Building off “Tact,” Dale hopes to combine the seemingly airy white pieces made from glue with the yarn-covered deer by covering the space behind the glue with yarn.

“I want to cover that in yarn as a literal and physical representation of space,” Dale said. “I’m playing a lot right now with pots. If you don’t bisque fire a pot, it just starts to dissolve. So I’ve been doing a lot with fake professional-looking pots and dripping water on it. So over the course of the next few hours, it just becomes a pile of mud. We’ll see where those go, but [“Tact”] is enough for now.”