Touch in Real Time


The Touch in Real Time project explores the power of touch at the crossroads of art, emotion and neuroscience.

Between 2012-2015, Holly Hanessian crossed the country and either held hands with people or asked others to hold hands together. The hand shaking events took place at the following organizations and locations: Contemporary Arts Center | New Orleans, The Halsey Institute of Contemporary Art | Charleston, SC,  Jane Hartsook Gallery - Greenwich House | New York City, NY,   Houston Center for Contemporary Craftsociety of | Boston, MA,  Ceramics Research Center | Tempe, AZ,  ASU Art Museum | ASU Herberger, Gregg Museum of Art and Design - NC State University | Raleigh, NC, Society for Contemporary Craft | Pittsburgh, PA, Watershed Ceramics | Edgecomb, Maine,  Florida 621 Gallery | Tallahassee, FL. 

Over 2,000 porcelain artifacts of these moments were created and have now become part of a traveling art exhibition.

Part 1: A Socially Engaged Experience

               In 2011-2013, I crossed the country holding hands with hundreds of people. I placed a small patty of wet clay between our hands, squeezed and then simply held hands. We continued to hold hands and look at each other as we swapped stories. I talked about the bonding hormone oxytocin that may be released into our bodies as I told each person stories about the project. When done, we looked at the freshly pressed piece of clay with the imprint from our handshake. The clay handshakes were then fired and became another ceramic artifact of the moment that will later become part of a traveling art exhibition. 


Part 2: The Neuroscience of Touch


               In April, I traveled to Pittsburgh, PA and worked with Dr. Greg Siegle and his team of Neuroscientists at the Program in Cognitive Affective Neuroscience (PICAN) at the University of Pittsburgh. After asking a series of questions, we recreated the event in the lab using EEG and fMRI procedures to examine how touch affects our behavior. 

Part 3:  The PERFORMANCE becomes a series of EXHIBITIONS  

               The exhibition began at the Society for Contemporary Art in Pittsburgh, PA and travelled to 5 venues before being included in the Contract Earth Central Chinese Biennial curated by Wendy Gers.  The exhibitions show the value of touch and involve the masses of clay handshakes; some were displayed like collections of artifacts; as well as EEG patterns on the wall from participants who held hands with me during the states identified of Alpha, Beta, Theta and Gamma from the neuroscience experience.

Read about this event in this review:

“Here is what happens. You approach the artist, give her your hand. In her hand is a piece of clay. She holds you, you hold her, for maybe ten seconds. Depending on who you are, she will say different things here, in different ways. She might tell you about the project. She might ask you about yourself. When it is time—when is it time?—you and she unstick yourselves and look at the dual prints your touching has made. The clay is shaped like some sort of a smoothed shell shard; on either side, your prints pock out.” 
                                                - Anne Marie Rooney, Pastelegram, March,19th  2013