During my first swift survey walk through the last years degree show (2016) of the Royal College of Art in London I noticed a curious repetition of a specific motif : The hand . But it wasn’t just a hand that exhibits itself, but a hand that acts, that touches, holds, performs. A hand that encourages empathetic identification.
The hand is one of the the most ancient representational motifs existing in art . Negative and positive handprints have been found in caves and on rocks dating back up to 39 000 years.
But it has been relatively absent in the art of recent years. What the hands formed , the result of their work has been subject of exhibitions, but less the hands themselves.
My thesis now is that there is a renaissance of the representation of hands happening and I see two contributing factors.
1. The hand in the viewfinder of our eyes
The most important factor is the relatively new but omnipresent everyday connection of the hand with the image. Through touchscreen technology the hand is now often and directly physically connected to the image. Today through the use of smartphones and tablets the hand has become part of a very large and growing number of images. During our interaction with digital images the hand is often in the foreground or center of the image. One might argue that the hand was also present when in the past we were looking through pages of museum catalogues or photo books . The difference might be subtle, but then the hand was only active at the edge of the image. Now it is active in its centre. It swipes over, it pinches and double taps. The hand is right in there. Physically. Overall the hand has become a larger part of our daily optical view finder. The heightened frequency of the hands presence is reflected in its taking stage in artworks of recent contemporary artists. And this doesn’t just effect art school graduates.
At the last Turner Prize exhibition at Tate Britain in London every shortlisted artist had to a larger or smaller degree images or representation of hands present in their work.
2. The making of objects vs the end product
A second factor for the appearance of the hand as a motif is more speculative and more subtle in its arguments: There seems to be a shift of focus in the arts towards “the making” and away from the “end product”. Artworks now often reflect the way they are made in some way. This is connected to Bertold Brechts ideas about theatre and the importance to show its construction and context within the play. The revival of the collage , of art and crafts and the return of performance art are all signifier of this trend. In painting abstract process based painting has been all the rage during the last ten years. Marks, material and process have been playing Ping Pong at all the art fairs. It has been young artists that are pushing these interests. My suspicion is that therefore the hand as a central instrument for making art has become more prominent in artworks.
The net as a new model for the world
I am not too interested in fashion trends in art ,but more in the question why this shift is happening now?
I sense that the world has become more fluid through information technology and social media. Everything is connected with everything it seems. At least it all is caught in the same net.
Water is a better representation of this condition than stone. The fluid closer to it then the solid. Every object is viewed now as more or less part of this net.
Information in all directions is attached to the object and it is itself information for other connected objects. Its only logical, that objects including artworks are now viewed in this way. So “the making of it” is the information we want ,we are used to, we want to convey, as it has become the way we see the world.