Liv Adams rethinks the accepted regulations in museums that praise sight uniquely disregarding the other senses.
‘Do not touch’, a sign plastered over all art exhibitions. A phrase that sparks, without fail, a flicker of curiosity in me and, admittedly, some sense of fear over what could happen if I dared to poke the piece with the tip of my finger. I usually brush the thoughts away and proceed to scrutinise the next five floors of artwork until my eyes burn and my boredom is overwhelming. Too much to see, so little to engage with. That is where the issue lies. The museum experience only engages with the eyeball and nothing else. Is it time for museums to change their motto to ‘Do touch’?
Is it time for museums to change their motto to ‘Do touch’?
Most contemporary museums limit individuals, especially those who are sensory-impaired, in terms of what exhibitions and artwork they can engage with. As art is becoming increasingly abstract in the 21stCentury and activism for social inclusivity grows, art exhibitions should go further than stimulating the vision of those who have it. Studies show that for both deaf and blind people, touch interacts with their brain more than others and can act as a means of educating deaf children. Before we know it, educational, interactive art projects could kick-off an initiative for teaching sensory-impaired children Maths and English.
Designers across the world are working on projects that activate all our senses – touch, taste, smell and sound. Public spaces are becoming more and more accessible for those who are sensory-impaired including a recent implementation of textured pavements that indicate where signs, dustbins and crossings are for blind people. For deaf people, Israeli designer Liron Gino has designed a tactile jewellery-like device, the Vibeat, that allows them to experience music through vibrations. There is no doubt that exhibitions that incorporate innovations like the Vibeat will forever transform how we envision and imagine art.
There is no doubt that exhibitions that incorporate innovations like the Vibeat will forever transform how we envision and imagine art
A teacher of mine once told me that she begins her exploration of a museum on the very top floor working her way down to ground level to avoid missing a single feature. Arguably, in a museum of the senses it would be rare to miss a piece when you are living and breathing the art displayed. Among these pieces you can find scratch and sniff paintings, multi-sensory sculptures, paintings that generate sound when touched and artwork that combines gastronomy with visual art. How appetizing.
Museums of the senses are already emerging around Europe exhibiting illusions of smell and ‘strictly sound’ zones awakening and challenging the senses you did not even know you had. The Pearlfisher Gallery in London has a whole pool of 81,000 white spheres for visitors to dive in and immerse themselves in a sea of bubbles. But we need to think bigger. National museums across the globe should delve into projects exploring the five senses calling on the Rembrandts and Picassos of the 21stCentury to envision fresh, interactive, and accessible art for all to appreciate. After all, wouldn’t life be even more thrilling if public spaces were designed to stimulate all our senses, spaces that are engaging beyond the eyeball?