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Whether to swipe, scroll, type, or identify ourselves with fingerprints, the way we use our hands is continually evolving. From using tools, to communication, comfort and care, our hands allow us to make connections and manipulate the world around us. This Friday, 31 January 2020 from 18.30 – 22.00, the V&A hosts In The Palm Of Your Hand, a series of presentations and workshops questioning the ritual of handshaking, exploring the language of hands through dance, using emoji gestures to decode the narrative of paintings, and studying the future of prosthetic hand design.

At the museum’s Grand Entrance on Cromwell Road, Manchester-based All Hands on Deck take the helm. A collective and open deck party for women, non-binary and trans individuals, they encourage DJs of all levels, running welcoming, low pressure and inclusive parties and workshops. Upon entering the Medieval & Renaissance rooms, curator Kirstin Kennedy explores the meaning of gestures and the importance of touch in the art and design of the medieval world. She notes, for the Ancient Greek physician Hippocrates, the thumb was ‘the great finger’ which enabled the other fingers of the hand to function. Thumbs and fingers allow us to grasp and create, and so hands distinguish humans from animals.

Elsewhere, designer Klemens Schillinger’s Substitute Phone replicates a generic smartphone; however, its functions are reduced to the movements we make hundreds of times a day. The stone beads incorporated in the body let you scroll, zoom and swipe with no digital functions. The phone, which can be described as a prosthesis, is reduced to nothing but the motions, offering a therapeutic approach to smartphone withdrawal symptoms. Designer Gareth Neal engages with and questions the relationship of digital manufacturing within the definition of craft. In his talk Neal discusses whether craft itself is defined by the handmaking process, or whether in today’s rapidly changing digital era, craft can mean something more.  

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At 7pm, the Blavatnik Hall plays host to an interactive talk with Toni Rutherford, to uncover the different types of energy that sit passively within our hands. Find out how smart materials and new technologies merge physical touch with digital display and discuss the potential for future applications. The Art Studio, Sackler Centre will be taken over by Lizzy Vartanian Collier, a fourth-generation embroiderer, a craft that has been passed down from women to women in the Middle East. In this workshop, Vartanian Collier takes participants through this ancient art, while creating a collective hamsa, a palm-shaped amulet and symbol of protection that commonly appears across West Asia and North Africa.

In The Salon, multidisciplinary artist, equipped with a soulful timbre and the pioneering wearable musical instrument MiMu Gloves, sings about a lived experience past, present and future. In this performance, Lula presents works from her current EP, ‘From My Hands To Your Ears’, taking listeners on a journey from the streets of Dalston to a Habesha+NYLon tribal and electro grit landscape. Following a first iteration last year, designed by Andrew Cook and Graham Pullin with V&A Dundee, Hands of X is a project about prosthetic hands, fashion and ownership. At Friday’s Late, explore prototype hands in a plethora of materials and specify your own hand influenced by fashion accessories and domestic products.

Lara Chapman explores the V&A’s paintings collection through the lens of emojis, decoding narratives that have traversed digital and physical divides. Discover the uncanny parallels and surprising differences in the representations of hands and gesture across time and media. Also on display, artist Sola Olulode’s figurative paintings portray a nuanced and tender vision of relationships and intimacy. Olulode aims to overlay, deepen, and reflect the identities of the black womxn she depicts rather than simplify and register them as a ‘subject’. Through colour and painterly brushwork, Olulode’s hand employs a range of media: indigo and other dyes, wax, oil bar, and impasto lashings of paint.

In The Palm Of Your Hand at the V&A | Friday 31 January 2020, 6.30– 10pm

Feature image: Zhong Lin (via V&A)

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