Prof. Klemens Gruber (Universität Wien) on "Tactilism"

11 March 2020, 5:30 pm–7:00 pm

Event Information

Open to



Enrico Palandri


Room 251
Foster Court
Gower Street

Explaining visual media through haptics seems a rather paradoxical thing to do. And yet some of the most advanced theoreticians used the sense of touch to define the new visual media of the 20th century: László Moholy-Nagy investigated photography along with what he called “tactile culture” in the 1920s. Walter Benjamin, in the 1930s, ascribed a decisive importance to the tactile quality of film perception in comparison to its visual perception. And finally, Marshall McLuhan, after the interregnum of barbarism and the move of socio-technical utopias to a different continent, presented television as a tactile medium in the early 1960s.

Moreover, the artistic avant-garde of the first decades of the 20th century — even if they were primarily creating new ways of seeing and new ways of conceiving the visible — also rediscovered touch as a minor yet essential sense, and tried to liberate it from its low standing in the senses’ hierarchy. The Russian Constructivist Vladimir Tatlin coined an elegant axiom for his early organic material art: “the eye should be put under the control of touch,” he wrote on the wall of his studio. The sense of touch also reached the Bauhaus, that utopian locus of avant-garde art education with its motto “Art and Technology, a New Unity.” Based on his observation that sensory experiences are gradually lost in today’s technical civilization, László Moholy-Nagy took over the legendary preliminary course at the Bauhaus from Johannes Itten. This “sensory training”, using the famous tactile boards, wheels and revolving drums, was intended to introduce students to different materials and to let them explore and test new surfaces provided by various industries, such as early plastics.

Moholy was inspired by Franz Cizek, the Viennese pioneer of Childrens’ Art, by Maria Montessori who, early in her teaching, introduced children to touch exercises while blindfolded, and by Marinetti, the “leader of the futurists” whose manifesto on “tactilism” passionately proposes “a new kind of art that should grow out of the sense of touch.” In fact, Filippo Tommaso Marinetti, in his manifesto Il Tattilismo presented in Paris in 1921, glorified the sense of touch in every way imaginable.


About the Speaker

Prof. Klemens Gruber

Klemens Gruber is a professor at the Department of Theater, Film and Media Studies at the University of Vienna, and editor of Maske und Kothurn. Internationale Beiträge zur Theater-, Film- und Medienwissenschaft. He is the author of Die zerstreute Avantgarde [The Distracted Avant-Garde], Vienna 2010 (Italian trans.: L’avanguardia inaudita, Genova 1997), and has co-edited Digital Formalism, Vienna 2009; telehor. the international journal of new vision. Brno 1936, Zurich 2011/13; optisch/haptisch 1: Der Tastsinn im Kino, Vienna 2014. He has published on Dziga Vertov, Alexander Kluge, and the cultures of the avant-garde.