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Intimacy of The Touch Project

How Billie Hoffman explores Relationships

By Arts & Culture, Featured

Illustration by Uy Pham

As a traditional painter, I rarely consider myself the canvas. In fact, a large portion of my energy goes towards avoiding contact with the fresh wet globs on the composition before me. My practice is solitary. Unlike the various majors and projects such as performance that beg for collaboration, I tend to become paranoid when someone is watching me create. Because of this, I was slightly hesitant when I was asked to participate in “The Touch Project.”

What began as a sculpture project for Stephanie Brooks’ class Permanence and Ephemerality, evolved into a moving photography series and partial performance constructed by School of the Art Institute of Chicago sophomore interdisciplinary student, Billie Hoffmann.

Given the loose prompt “create an ephemeral monument” Hoffmann ideated a monument to touch, visualizing touch through various materials: sand, glitter, paint, stickers, gold and silver leaf. The intent was to have a pair of participants cover parts of their body in these materials and engage in touch. Hoffmann preserved these moments whether they were platonic or romantic.

Previously working with couples, Hoffman selected a pair of SAIC undergraduate friends for the final shoot. I participated alongside my friend Kess Akankwasa.

Hoffmann’s assignment turned into a playful exploration in intimacy. Each shoot became more about play. The consensus of the participants was that we all had a good time, especially since we were granted permission to get messy.

Hoffman said this permission “is something we don’t always have.”

Hoffmann said that all of their artwork is about people, specifically interactions, relationships, memories and abundance. Drawn to touch, Hoffmann explores the core practice of tenderness, translating it into a practice of tattooing.

In their tattoo work, Hoffmann uses hand pokes to connect with people and create intimate interactions. Hoffmann said they’re honored to make people feel comfortable and safe, clarifying how hand poking creates a space where people are vulnerable and can reclaim their bodies.

“The body feels most at home when embracing another person… and intimacy can mean different things for different people,” Hoffmann said.

Hoffmann shared their observations of differences in people’s comfort levels with touch and how it manifested in “The Touch Project.” This initiated a discussion on the distinctions between romantic and platonic intimacy and their portrayal in Hoffman’s artwork.

Hoffmann photographed Kess and my continuous laughter as we confessed that we don’t identify as physically intimate people, despite our long established friendship. But we were open to the concept, so we engaged in playful interactions and explored touch.

Intimacy is so much more than being close with someone. “The Touch Project” prompts a realization that intimacy extends beyond physical proximity. It sparks conversations about societal perceptions of touch and intimacy, highlighting the need for deeper introspection and understanding in our relationships.

Intimacy, whether romantic or platonic, is a fundamental aspect of human connection that involves a deep sense of closeness, vulnerability, and understanding between individuals. Relationships thrive on various forms of intimacy, including emotional, physical, and even intellectual intimacy.

This project has boosted my awareness and openness to touch, allowing me to break down preconceived notions of what intimacy is supposed  to look like. Although it can be an intimidating act, I am now more open to experimenting with my approach to intimacy with loved ones, and with “The Touch Project,” Hoffman hopes that viewers may feel the same.

Billie Hoffman’s work can be found on Instagram @raw.art_inc and @pokes.bybillie

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