Thursday’s Tile: A Little Touchy, Are We?

This month, we’re pulling into the station, on our final descent, on the last leg of Thursday’s Tile. Our March Victory Lap is consisting of photo essays focused on each of the five areas of the Five Senses Bench, with one concluding column planned at month’s end. Click on Hearing or Smell to read those photo essays from the last two weeks.

Let’s look at some Touch tiles. There is a lot to see, including some works that show how one tile leads to another. How about life-giving touch? Up top are the famous hands from Michelangelo’s Creation of Adam fresco from the Sistine Chapel at the Vatican in Rome. Yesterday a friend commented that what makes this work powerful is the enormous tension created because the hands are NOT touching. We feel that spark of life rather than see it.

And here is ET the Extra Terrestrial’s glowing finger, the one that heals Elliott’s ouchie and the one that he touches to Elliott’s forehead when he leaves saying, “Be Good.” The movie poster openly riffed on Michelangelo’s work as you can see. I love this kind of resonance, myself.

As we learned in the Thursday’s Tile post about the Homunculus, our hands give us the most sensorial information of any part of us, save maybe our lips and tongue. There are many, many hands represented in Touch. There’s this giant 7″ fingerprint, too. I have been wondering who first noticed that none of our fingerprints were the same. Apparently it happened in ancient times. The forensic use of fingerprints is only about 100 years old, though, and nearly all other forms of personal identification are referred to as “fingerprinting,” such as digital fingerprinting (a humorously self-referencing term?!?!) or acoustic or genetic fingerprinting.

Hand tracings are also an ancient form of decoration, universally found in prehistoric caves, petroglyphs and pictographs. They were also the first tiles made representing this area of the bench. The hand tiles are life-size and contain raised decorations, making them fun to touch. Note the tactility of the pineapple near the top hand and the slug and thistle near the bottom two.

Speaking of hard-to-impossible things to touch, above we have HOT LAVA, as well as some cactus. Have you ever cleaned nopales? If so, you know how insidiously painful one invisible micro-spine can be. Even the pre-cleaned ones are capable of stabbing the cook.

And, thinking of stabbing, here is a cuddly porcupine! Not. They hold their barbed quills flat for mating, but raise them when feeling challenged, so curious dogs get muzzle-fulls quite commonly. Porcupines apparently are good eating, and those quills are used in the embroidery unique to Native Americans, presumably after the “spiny pig” is dead and motionless.

One of our last images is a treacherous trio: a round sawblade, some poison oak leaves and a knife that is glazed so convincingly as to constantly catch me offguard.  I startle and think, “Who left that knife sitting there?????” and realize I have been duped again. (Ooooh, and more cactus!)

All these sharp and painful images share this side of the bench with the Braille sign “Please Touch.” Kinda ironic. (The Braille “Do Not Touch” is on the Sight side.)

But there is another kind of Touch besides physical: the feelings that touch us. One of my first posts on Thursday’s Tile was about KB’s lips and her suggestions for adding these kinds of images to touch: angels, purple heart tiles, soft cats. I just re-read that post and it brings a tear to my eye too, like this last photo: Sad Eye with Tear. You might think it belongs on Sight, but it is exactly the right crossover tile, made specifically for this area, its narrative adapting to its placement and expanding our experience. A little Touchy, are we? That’s good!

Thursday’s Tile: Yee Gawd, What’s that Smell????

Let us now turn our attention to the Smell Area of the Five Senses Bench and perform a photo examination of something besides the pleasant smells of sweet peas and petrichor, coffee beans and stargazer lilies. (Or even all that yummy food round the other side in the ginormous Taste Area.)

Yee Gawd, what’s that awful smell? There is a disproportionate number of reviling tiles in this sense area than in nearly all the other senses combined.

I know a few reasons why. One is that Smell apparently connects right to our reptilian brains, giving us primal and non-cognitive information. Our whole beings react to smells on experiential levels we can hardly even perceive. We know our parents and siblings by smell: it’s a proven fact, even if we never needed to ID them that way. No thinking needed.

The other reason I know why there are so many stinky tiles is because of the couple of fun afternoons I sat on the bench-in-progress, notepad in hand, and took down every free association for Smell that GN and PMcN threw at me. They were moving around the outdoor work area one-upping each other with grossness. It is absolutely the BEST way to get good ideas: Get your body in motion and just start speaking everything that comes to mind. Have a sympatico partner to play the game with and someone or something else recording it all.

So let’s take a look at some of their excellent collaboration results.

The next two shots are the same basic location, low on the seat back, just above and below the SMELL label tiles made by the aesthetically opinionated and industrious DP. They form a tableau of bad smells and possible remedies: air freshener and clothespin-on-the-nose (does anyone really do that, or is it just a fun image?)

Ya got yer skunks, your cigarettes and burnt matches. If you think about it, I bet you can recall each smell clearly enough to want to use a clothespin yourself. If you get enough skunky odor, it will make you retch. Bet you don’t want to try, either.

A word about that broken and falling evergreen tree. It is funny next to the pine air freshener, no? And yes, the tile broke in the making, but it strengthened the narrative relating to Smell because then it became an example of John Muir’s description of the 7.4 magnitude Owens Valley earthquake as he experienced it on the West side of the Sierras in Yosemite Valley in 1872. He wrote this: “…and the air was loaded with the odor of crushed Douglas Spruces, from a grove that had been mowed down and mashed like weeds.” Think: Gigantic Christmas Tree lot, bowled over! (And thank you forever for your glorious writings, John Muir.)

Above we have one example of several kinds of flowers, Arum genus, I believe, that can smell like rotting flesh, when they bloom. Some are insanely huge, too.

You see that outhouse tile just below the Arum Amorphophallus flower? Here come the bodily emissions!

Our little man is burning a hole in his pants emitting that green cloud with a few odd chunky areas in it. Can air be chunky? Need we say more?

Well, GN and PMcN outdid themselves. P got such a clear image of “a soft-serve pile of poo” he made it himself. That’s some great shit, P! If I recall, it’s dog poo. Watch your step, it smells worse on the beach between your barefoot toes. Ask me. I know.

Does anyone sweat freely by choice any more? Let’s completely block those sweat glands with a giant swipe of aluminum chlorhydrate.And there’s the hairy armpit with one nipple to accentuate the message.

The stinky sneakers look almost genteel. But what about toxic fumes? Chemicals? Smog? Methane gas? Carbon Dioxide? We end with the whole world wearing a heavy duty gas mask to prevent it from smelling…..itself? “Fumes may cause death.” Indeed. You have been notified.

Thursday’s Tile: Altered Hearing and Inner Ears

This post is the beginning of the end for the Thursday’s Tile blog posts. I plan five photo essays for each of the senses on the Five Senses Bench and then a summation post, with everything ending in late March, after six months of Thursdays.

Many of the tiles on the Five Senses Bench are there because they express the opposite of what might be expected for that particular Sense. They might be another take on it, an anti-view or an out-of-the-bench tangential, thoughtful observation. Gosh darn those Artists!

Even though some of these tiles physically wound up applied on other areas because they could pass for two or even three senses, this grouping includes those that call to us to take the indirect route to even the things we could never hear.

Up above is a rendition of the main figure from The Scream by Edvard Munch, an image which strikes to the core of modern angst even though it was painted a hundred years ago. Munch painted several versions over almost 20 years, starting in 1892. Sometimes he titled it The Cry of Nature. Our Inner Ears hear this shrieking skeletal spectre and we come away wanting to cover our own ears and scream as well.


Next up we have words for sounds and two critters. If we could not read, would we even hear these animals? Does it matter that bunnies are some of the most silent creatures out there, only screaming in pain or ecstasy? And why oh why would a bunny be saying D’oh!? And, if we had never heard D’oh! spoken would we even understand what that speech bubble meant? Anyhow, the bunny says D’oh! because it was a placement opportunity sight gag that just came up and we took it.

The dog in the last photo reminded me that we only hear within a certain range and other creatures hear things beyond, or, in the case of bats, do things differently with sound. Bats, the only mammals that truly fly, navigate by echolocation, playing a sophisticated form of Marco Polo every night.

And what about communicating soundlessly, as this mime does? This tile is a good example of one that was suitable for both Hearing and Sight and wound up on the latter.

Below is a series of tiles that has to do with ear applications: ear plugs, ear protection – or is it old school headphones? – and a hearing aid. This is a grouping that represents things we do with and for and near our ears to enhance, deny, amplify or mitigate sound.



Do you know the old joke about the man with carrots in his ears, who, when told about it said, “I can’t hear you, I have carrots in my ears!” Well, you know it now. Dumb, yes, but a perfect example of things we can choose to do, since we do not have ‘earlids.’

So, that’s a tour of the Hearing area that involves silence, sound imagination by our inner ears, extra-human sensations, as well as hearing modifications.

Once again, here are that area’s title tiles, suggested and made by the ever-involved DP. And here’s another sight gag based on the word ring.

Thursday’s Tile: In Praise of Entomophagy

Right above the vanilla orchid on the Five Senses Bench, right there on the pointy knee of the Taste area, are two tile testimonials to the fact that millions of people enjoy larvae and insects as a daily source of crunchy, savory protein.

We here in North America typically consider Entomophagy a survivalist curiosity, a lollipop novelty or a Triple Dog Dare suitable for reality TV. The plain motivation for including this Sago Palm grub (on the left) and the mess o’ fried mealworm (on the right) was the Gag Factor and frisson of repulsion they induced.

Every one of us working on these particular tiles (it grew into a group effort) started out like that and yet our researching, while not turning us into aficianados or grub-o-philes, did gain us a wider appreciation of all that the human palate and gastro-intestinal system are capable of.

Spit-roasted or raw? Deep fried on buttered toast? Here’s one recipe from ehow. I still would not choose this food, just as I don’t choose snails, rattlesnake or tripe, even though I have eaten them in the past.

It is important to note that I have a choice, just as the ever-insightful Michael Pollan explores in his wonderful books from The Omnivore’s Dilemma to Food Rules. I’m guessing if the choice is gummi or sago palm worms, Mr. Pollan would always advise the latter as being Real Food. Either can be delicious or repugnant according to custom, expectation and the like. Add in the knowledge that processed edibles, no matter how cute and appealing, are Not Especially Good for Us, and that choice sharpens.

Another small takeaway here is that the notion of Taste pretty quickly broadens from direct physical sensation to those cultural realms and choices. We could not capture Taste-as-Aesthetics directly in our tiles, either. The notion of Good Taste might not be translatable into an object, only a sign for it.

We can, however, take an object and call it Beautiful as we see it. Here are these tiles -all of them, this whole bench -all of it, working towards that end. Better still, DP took a mold off the Sago Palm Grub and remade a solid version of it as a brooch! I like her Taste: it made a beautiful personal decoration in a deliciously gross kind of way, and I won’t ever have to eat it!


Exquisite. Sublime. Surreal. Urban. Funky. I might give any or all of these appellations to this tile. It is also disturbing and just plain wrong. First offense: It’s sdrawkcab. Second offense: It’s that way on purpose.

It’s sited very noticeably on the front seat edge of Smell on the Five Senses Bench, which might be its third strike. Where are we, really? Looking at a mosaic bench…or trapped in the SEWER looking out at the illusion of a mosaic bench? A man dreaming of being a butterfly or a butterfly dreaming of being a man? And what the hell is that awful smell? No, wait, don’t tell me.

Saving graces: it is still readable, still a sign in rectangular format, still calling up connections to its placement.

It is the work of a vigorous, clear-visioned young man, who I only can recall as I. In the course of the semester (and maybe two) he gathered countless clay slab impressions of similar industrial signage and textures: High Voltage, high boltage. Diamond plate, screws and screens. He used these industrial textures loosely in nearly every asymmetrical vessel and sculpture he created, and left several dozen impression plates behind.

He was clearly under the influence of a certain sensibility. My memory of I is of him in constant motion on an enthusiastically urgent quest for the discovery and capture of every found version of this sensibility extant. Similar to a treasure hunter or to any other collector of naturally occurring phenomena, he believed the next best captcha was just around the corner. He cracked great jokes and sometimes talked to himself.

What rests stuck here on this bench is only semi-disturbing when compared to the range of sculptural vessel fantasia he concocted with his collected findings. It is completely tame compared to the intensity of the hunt, which probably was more of the point. And that gets me thinking about artistic process, for some truly are happiest in the Concept and Gathering stages and pass through Execution, Completion and Assessment quickly in order to go hunting again. That was I to a T!

Where is I now? Still in town? Gone to art school?  Traveling?  Working this concept (which actually has lifetime potential) or finding it both too obvious and too obscure to ride much longer than the time he did? What rabbithole cover did he sneak under and go down?  I would love to know. Matter of fact, I think I will make some polite inquiries soon.

Thursday’s Tile: Copy-cake Ape-a-tation

Here’s the original “Cake” by Wayne Thiebaud:
And here’s a shot of the tile rendition of it on the Taste Area of the Five Senses Bench:
I’d say it is a fair copy-cake ape-a-tation.  But only fair, if that is the only standard to judge it by. It is tentative, small, soft-edged and melty in comparison.  Maybe an ice cream cake version. But to be fair in another way,  it was never intended to be shown side-by-side with the original!
To the copy’s credit, the hues and relative values are actually quite impressive and almost give off the same luminosity, especially in the sunlight. That righthand yellow section could be a lot lighter and purer, but so?
Thank my artful goodness there are plenty of ways to judge copies beyond photographic resemblance.  As an homage to food art and a terrific artist, it works great. (Just like the version of Andy Warhol’s Campbell’s Soup Can up on the back of the seat does.)
Plus, the medium of underglaze and the changes wrought by the ‘heat work’ of the kiln are enough to render whatever control this unknown artist exacted purdy near null and void. It is what it is. Part of ceramics is certainly surrendering to the will of the Kiln Gods. C’mon Happy Accident!
Knowing all of this, if we then start asking about flavors and sensations in the largest sense possible, we can easily see how much this tile embodies the Spirit of  “Cake” and not just the Letter of it and take our satisfaction with that deep into our artistic bodies and minds, thereby affording a Greater than the Five Senses Experience, all from one little copy-cake.


Thursday’s Tile: Irresistable Sense Barrier

For all the tiles on the Five Senses Bench that revel in glorious sensual experiences, there are a few in each area that speak to their lack, erasure, or pain, and, in the case of this haunting tile, of their conscious need to be modulated or even forbidden.

This tile was certainly more than its maker bargained for. JP was openly enthusiastic about the bench and its evocative possibilities. He fairly quickly chose this image, finding it creepily amusing.  His artistic sensibilities led him to cut it in a stand-alone rectangular portrait format and to add the circle pattern background behind the figure. While most tiles need the canvas imprint pattern — made when the wet clay slab is first rolled out — to be smoothed, the fact that JP left it in place (whether through intention or oversight) adds a certain appropriate screen of tactility that is both decorative and a tad forbidding.

It’s basically its own work of art which happens to be attached to another work of art. That winds up creating an isolationist stance in both narrative and actuality, most assuredly adding to the work’s emotional power.

I originally had gathered this image thinking it would be placed on the Smell area. But that was not JP’s take on it: he wanted it on Touch. So you can find it rounding the front edge of the seat in Touch but closely bordering Smell. This placement always causes a blip on my cognitive radar, further adding to its uncanniness.

In the end, this kind of medicinal mask is more about Touch anyhow: not being touched by breath, not letting airborne germs touch one’s lungs. Not letting any stray objects enter or leave the mouth. The mask-wearer’s eyes are disengaged and distractedly looking up. No smile or frown can be read, therefore No Emotional Touching allowed either! Sterility on steroids!

And JP kept the palette painfully simple. Bare clay, lots of white with a subtle linear texture and those incongruous blood-red polka dots with a veil of smaller canvas dots over most everything else.

This tile winds up being a psychological study of nearly Jungian proportions. It is a strong guardian of the Shadow, the Forbidden, the Anti-Sense and it’s very hard to divert one’s eyes once it gets you in its grip. Must go gaze at it again soon.