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Allison Paschke’s “Please Touch”

Do not touch the art. This is an edict all frequent museum and gallery goers know to heed, tiptoeing through exhibition spaces, aware of their bodies, ensuring a safe distance between themselves and the artwork. But Allison Paschke’s latest exhibit at AS220 is slightly different and may appeal to those who have always been tempted to touch a piece of art when no one’s looking.

As you enter the installation space, porcelain pyramids of varying shapes, sizes, and heights litter the floor, arranged carefully to form an aesthetically pleasing pattern. Paschke’s installation, entitled “Please Touch,” allows her visitors not only to touch her artwork but encourages them to move pieces around to their liking.

The show consists of four interactive art pieces, two of which are comprised of 2,000 small porcelain pieces and the other two of hundreds of pieces of resin and acrylic. People kneel on the floor of the gallery, examining, touching, and rearranging the pieces.

On the back wall hangs a shelf where more abstract porcelain pieces are assembled. According to Paschke, these pieces were created to exist on the border between abstraction and reality — shapes that can vaguely resemble real physical objects, as long as you use your imagination. Paschke made certain that none of her pieces were too literal, so as to make sure that visitors can enter their own worlds based on their personal interpretations of what the pieces represent. “I love other people’s interpretations and sense of discovery,” Paschke told me. “They become artists, coming up with things I could have never thought of.”

The same idea applies to her resin piece, comprised of small, curved pieces of resin that hang from the wall by delicate pins. Arranged in a grid pattern, the pieces of resin — or “drops” as she refers to them — boast vibrant hues of yellow and orange. Visitors are asked to move the resin pieces from pin to pin or to add new pieces, which are placed in a basket nearby with a sign stating: “Add, remove, replace, and move elements, from pin to pin.” Needless to say, I couldn’t help but rearrange some elements to my own satisfaction.

On the far right wall hangs another shelf, where colorful geometric shapes of resin and acrylic lean against fogged mirrors. While the mirrors are stationary, the resin and acrylic pieces are movable and can be arranged to the viewers liking. Paschke wanted to ensure that people could not see their reflections perfectly in the mirror, but rather provide the viewers with a vague sense of self-awareness and the ability to acknowledge their presence and interaction with the art.

With this exhibit, Paschke breaks the stereotype of staid and standoffish art galleries by coaxing out each visitor’s playful and imaginative nature. I left with the strangely comical impression of gallery goers on the floor, playing with and rearranging porcelain pyramids as if they were Lego pieces. There were people who showed a bemusing hesitance to touch the art, people who likely feared that they had misread the “Please Touch” signs pasted around the gallery. The casual air of the installation and the rapport between those who were participating in it was like a breath of fresh air compared to stuffy galleries where shudders can be felt if you so much as breathe near the art. If you’re anything like me, someone who is always tempted to touch anything that is accompanied by a prohibitive sign, I highly recommend you check out the exhibit. Even if you’re not anything like me, there is much satisfaction to be found in participating in Paschke’s exhibit and becoming an artist yourself.