21_21 DESIGN SIGHT, 2014, Exhibit Design

Thinking Hand

I can't help but think that an octopus looks a little like a swimming hand. A human hand and an octopus are completely different but they both seem to have adopted at a similar shape. An octopus's branched shape makes it adept at squeezing in and around small spaces.

The human hand is also able to adapt to so many different shapes, blending with the many object it comes into contact with daily. We design handles to match human hands, but our hands themselves are so flexible that handles can take on many shapes.

Handle forms are solidified images of the negative space within the hand's grasp. Handles might be stick-like or ball-like. These are the shapes that our hand can create, in a way, like shadow puppets (kage-e).

The inside of our hands are soft and padded while, the outside of our hands are more bony. The softness of our palms mold to the object we want to hold. The branched shape of our fingers wrap around the handle like octopus arms around a clam.

The hand connects the tool to the body. The line where the tool ends and the body begins is blurred by the skill of our hands. Watching a tennis player, the racket is a smooth extension of the arm. It is shocking when a pro tennis player throws their racket at the end of the game; an object that has been so seamlessly blended to the body, is suddenly thrown off.

We wouldnt hold the metal end of the hammer and hit a nail with the wooden stick. There is usually a clear division between the hand side and the work side. The hand knows which side is to be grasped.

The hands are 'seeing' the various shapes. The hand touches them, gauges them, measures their size, tests for roughness or smoothness and feels the cool metal or warm wood. All the time the hand is preparing for a sensitive 'precision grip' with the fingertips, or getting ready to clamp on tight with the palm.

In this exhibit, THINKING HAND, a flat horizontal plane separates the handles from the the other part of the objects. Some of the objects are recognizable from their handles only. Some handles are only recognized after looking below the table surface.

In THINKING HAND objects are not divided by where they are usually found or by which country they were made in. They are divided by the handle shape. There are stick handles like on a broom, horizontal bar handles like on a suitcase, and the hole handles found in a bowling ball.

Separating the handle side from the tools side, my hand wanders over the handles, like an ocotpus over an ocean floor. The handles are experienced as accomplishments on their own, not just parts of another tool. A broom handle and a golf club handle so similar even though their functions are very different. Rubber stamps have the same functions but their handles can be so different. Seeing the handles separated makes me ask, why not have a rubber stamp handle on a say a coffee cup. The handles are all meant to match the same hand after all.

In English to 'get a handle' on something, means to understand it.