Why the Multisensory Approach?
At MaMoMi, we understand that audience participation in the arts has gone beyond the traditional realms of simply viewing artworks displayed on museum or gallery walls, or on plinths.
Interaction with visual arts occurs across a lot more visitor types and needs more than ever before. We pride ourselves on taking a very proactive approach to enhance the interaction between art and design and the audience.
Paintings, drawings, sculpture, objects, installation, film, theatre, music, dance and poetry all provide opportunities for engagement, exploration and education.
The multimodal approach augments the experience of participants, allowing for an engaging interpretation of art in ways previously not appreciated, and enables a richer, more valuable user experience, especially for the visually impaired and others at risk of exclusion. We see interpretation as learning and sharing through exploration.
Below are a few characteristics of our various senses and how we can best utilise them for engagement and exploration.
The Sense of Touch: Somatosensory Perception
The image shows the right hand of a woman touching a wall with her palm.
The sense of touch allows us to make a direct physical connection with objects and surfaces, helping us make viable links with our immediate physical environment.
Touch is known to be our first language because as newborns, the first thing babies are encouraged to do at birth is to cuddle, that crucial initial connection that aids the mother-child bonding process.
The haptic (or active) perception in the tactile process helps us recognise objects, either through texture, density, weight or temperature.
Active touch is different from passive or phlegmatic touch which is inert, and active touch allows us to make viable connections while exploring the character and attributes of that object.
Investigating these elements helps us make a positive identification of the explored object.
Some of the various characteristics include texture, feeling, temperature and weight and they can be experienced differently within objects and surfaces.
Below is a list of those observations;
Texture: Helps to explore the character, body and texture of an artwork or object through touch. Whether hard or soft, identifiable features of an object or artwork can be asserted.
The rough or smooth feeling: Clay, porcelain, ivory, marble, plaster, stone, copper and steel all have finer differences to silk, satin and velvet, and require different approaches and ways of touching.
We can use the whole hand, all the fingers or just the fingertips and can run our fingers along the fabric’s weave.
The cold or hot feeling: Temperature is felt through the thermic qualities of objects, and this can be explored with the hand or other parts of the body, including the face and forearm.
Steel is usually colder than ceramic, which is colder than wood.
Weight: Pressure can be felt from the weight of different objects across the fingers or palm of an up-turned hand (baric sense).
Where applicable, try to consider how this could be used, e.g. can participants pick up an artwork or handling object to feel its weight, density or volume?
This relates to muscle memory (the procedural memory of doing muscle-related tasks through repetition) and how we make distinct connections between visual and physical elements.
Image description: The image shows a raised image of a geographical map. Image credit: Touch Graphics Europe.
Replica Artworks: Sometimes it is impossible to use original artworks during the Touch Tours, either because some of the artworks are too delicate to be touched, are physically unstable or too vulnerable to be touched because of their age.
Where this is the case, replica artworks or handling objects that can replicate key attributes of the artwork are explored.
Raised Images: These are 2-dimensional images that are transformed to outline or relief images. These tactile images allow visually impaired people the opportunity to explore objects that they would not normally be accessible to.
The images are raised interpretations of visual images designed to be read by touch in conjunction with a detailed description and braille labelling.
Image description: This is a cast used in making a mould for making boots. It is white in colour and has several shoe soles placed around it.
Raised images are created using swell paper (coated with microcapsule solution) and a heat fusing machine such as Zy-Fuse.
The image to be raised needs to be printed or photocopied onto the swell paper and passed through the machine.
The heat is absorbed by the black areas of the image and the chemical reaction that it produces causes those areas to rise and swell.
Tactile Handling Objects:
Tactile objects can be made by artists and educators, and are useful in interpreting visually impaired participants.
They are additional tools that have been extremely useful to make a connection with different artworks and objects.
Image description: This is a tactile reproduction of a photograph. Image credit: Touch Graphics Europe.
A number of paintings, prints and objects can be interpreted using tactile artworks that represent their illustration in bas-relief, in a similar way as raised images.
This allows participants to explore detailed images through a combination of sight and touch.
To do this, a combination including a thermo-forming ink for 3D-effect applications is used.
If you are interested in the technicalities involved in this process then please feel free to check out the Touch Graphics Europe website.
The Sense of Taste: Gustatory Perception
Image description: This is an image of the shortbread made to explore the sense of taste at the multisensory workshop that was held in June 2014.
Taste is a very tangible sensation to explore as part of art interpretation. The gustatory is the perception of food or other substances placed in the mouth. Food combines so much in one; taste, smell and texture to form a multisensory experience.
Participants can really admire the transient nature of food, and for example, sharing the process that goes into baking a cake or bread can be a very satisfactory one.
Someone once said “Food is the most revealing part of culture…” and the duality of senses approach surely provokes a lot of dialogue. Using shortbread biscuits and cakes made in the shape of selected artworks, participants are able to explore the relationship between the sense of touch, taste and smell.
These food items are usually made in response to some contemporary artworks or of artworks of artists we work in collaboration with. They are not created as replicas but instead help to bring or align viable links between the food items and the artworks.
The sense of taste is very closely linked to smell and can probably be the most challenging to explore in a museum environment but is an excellent addition in a workshop session to help link an object or subject of a painting, for example, having fruit in the picture for the V.I.P. to taste.
In a previous workshop, we explored edible candles as a connector of the taste, smell and touch sensations.
The Sense of Smell: Olfactory Perception
Image description: The image shows participants exploring the dual nature exploring the senses of taste and smell at the multisensory workshop in 2014.
Olfaction is the sense of smell and the olfactory receptors are responsible for the detection of smell. The sense of smell is closely related to the sense of taste and although it is sometimes referred to as the least important of the senses, nothing can be as memorable as a smell.
The scent or fragrance of an object has the power to fix time and place in our minds, almost like a snapshot, and this memory can be useful in linking an experience.
Smell is also evocative of emotion and using a rose smell, for example, can help show an installation symbolising love. As different smells can be linked to different objects, the sense of smell can be used to connect stories, ideas, places or situations.
These connections are usually very memorial and highly commemorative.
At this workshop, the identifiable elements of well-known paintings were replicated on cakes baked in the shape and expressive style of the making of the artworks.
The Sense of Sound: Auditory Perception
Image description: This image shows a participant drawing and making notes of his sensorial observation during the auditory multisensory session.
The ability to perceive sound or auditory perception is achieved by the auditory sense and is usually detected through sound waves or vibrations, an entity delicate in its constitution as it can be profound in its use.
Linking sound with a place or occasion is a great way to make a connection with or recall the memory of that place or time.
When exploring the senses of touch, taste, smell and sound, participants are usually encouraged to recall viable sensations through art-making, or even create their own verbal narrative.
The aural quality of an installation or artwork can help us identify the work by helping us register a mental picture of the work in our minds. We can also judge the distance of an object, even when in motion.
The recorded sound of a dog’s bark, a waterfall, a gust of wind, a banjo player, for example, can create a great sense of atmosphere during a workshop.