Hands and handles

Term 5

My world is full of handles.  They jump out at me and announce their presence, waiting for a hand to touch them.  Body parts are opening out all the time during training, and right now my hands are edging into the limelight. Of course it’s all connected together, as release in one part allows something else to let go.  My arms are finding their connection with my back, and I’m noticing the effect in my hands.

The handles I’ve seen vary in shape, and I approach them differently.  Some are metallic, delicate, inviting to the touch and well matched to the size and weight of door they have to open.  Others give clues before you lay a finger on them – fitting easily to an imaginary hand and anticipating a light push away or a gentle turn to left or right.

One asks for downward pressure from the thumb at the top to lift a latch behind the door, while the rest of the hand fits comfortably round the handle below.  The positioning and craftsmanship of both suggest only the softest of touches is needed to enter the secret garden behind the wooden door.

Door handle

I’ve seen door knockers as well – two hands and one fish. These are made of sterner stuff, requiring firm treatment to resonate through the building and wake a sleeping household.  But there’s a humanity and lifelike quality about the metal hands and I see how I could gently shape my own fingers round as I knock.

Shop and office handles vary widely, and their doors are not always easy to enter. Some are wide open, inviting me in hands-free. Not all are accessible, and it can be hard to find the way in.  It isn’t always clear if I should push, pull or move closer and wait for the doors to open. Typewritten signs on the glass  – Push to Open or Automatic Doors – suggest other customers find it confusing too. The doors are larger and heavier than domestic ones with substantial handles encouraging effort and strain.

Handles are coming to the fore because I’m ‘unlearning’ the way I normally grip with my fingers – tight and with too much effort.  My hands are becoming less harsh, more open and alive, and I’m beginning to use them in a lighter, easier way.  My thinking is changing too. I’ve not been paying attention and have assumed doors are heavy and I must use effort. Instead I need to meet each handle as it comes, and give myself time to unlearn the old ways.   I’m losing my grip and that’s the way it has to be.

Metal door handle




Breathing with colour

Textile detail 2

Summer holidays

This week I encountered the work of someone who deals with breathing, flexibility, movement and change.  Not an Alexander teacher, but Hella Jongerius, a Dutch industrial designer. Her mission is to allow colours to breathe.  In an exhibition at London’s Design Museum, she sets out her stall:

“The way we experience colour depends on the quality of light…. I miss colours that breathe with the changing of the light.  I miss the changeability, the options, that allow us to read and re-read an industrially-produced colour just as we reinterpret works of art… My research on colours, materials and textures is never complete.  All the questions are open-ended, and all answers provisional…”

Working mainly with textiles and furniture in a commercial context, she views the colours traditionally used in industry as too fixed. Manufacturers want guaranteed stability and uniformity for their products.  Her position is that colours change depending on the material, their surroundings, time of day and the way the colour itself has been produced.

She’s become interested in texture, layers, shadows, unexpected combinations – glorying in the flexibility of colour rather than trying to iron it out, and above all wanting to allow colours to come to life.  She has a particular issue with the colour black.  In the print industry it’s produced by using carbon:

“This is effective but it lacks intensity and depth.  It stops the colour from breathing and kills it.”

She mediates between users of her products and the makers, slowly breaking down commercial reluctance to take risks or to trust her judgement, and readily engaging with the tactile and emotional qualities of her designs.

“We live in an increasingly digital world, where our analogue and tactile experiences are becoming more important. The surface and colour of an object define how we interact with it, how we use it at first and over time.  A sense of touch and feeling strongly influence the relationship between object and user”.

The exhibition is not wholly successful in explaining her theories or showing them through the experimental work on display.  It’s located in a basement with no natural light, so it’s impossible to see for yourself the impact of changing daylight on colours.  But I found myself energised, engaged and curious about colour after visiting.  The Alexander training is opening up my senses and awareness.  By the time I left I was seeing new colour combinations everywhere. The tingling sense of visual excitement and tactile possibility remains.

Different shades of green
Folding reveals different layers of colour in each shade of green
Colour catchers
These ‘colour catchers’  are for research into colour, shadow and reflections
Colour catcher in textiles
One frame from Jongerius’ ‘woven movie’ in textiles
White colour catcher
White ‘colour catcher’ showing different shades and layers of colour
Colour wheel
Jongerius wants layered pigments to provide intense colours that breathe
Textile colour catcher
‘Colour catcher’ on experimental textile hanging
Textile detail
‘Textiles, just like colours, are multi-layered materials’
Pots showing different colours of pigment
Pots showing different pigments