Sense of Touch and Art
Koujirou Hirose
Associate Professor, National Museum of Ethnology
[Art exhibition without showing works]
The temporary exhibition “Connect x Cover x Catch - The Essence of Appreciation without Sight” is being held at the Hyogo Prefectural Museum of Art from July 2, 2016 to November 6, 2016. I, a person with total blindness, have been fully cooperating on the organization of the exhibition since the planning stage as the Producer and Advisor. The exhibition has two features: (1) The works are not shown to visitors, in order to make them concentrate on “touching,” and (2) A “fresh voice” of a person with visual impairments touching and examining sculptures is used as a voice guide. I will explain these two features individually.
In recent years, exhibitions where visitors can touch works of sculpture have been held around the world. Many overseas museums have an “exhibition of touchable works” as their permanent exhibitions. The Hyogo Prefectural Museum of Art has had an annual exhibition called “Form in Art-Touch and Sense the Piece” since 1989. The Essence of Appreciation without Sight, which I have been engaged in, was planned as one of the series of exhibitions of “Form in Art.”
The “exhibition of touchable works” held at the museum has two main purposes. One is to offer people with visual impairments, who have not visited the museum very often, opportunities to enjoy art. The other is to question the conventional way of enjoying art based on vision. With regard to “Form in Art” held at the Hyogo Prefectural Museum of Art in recent years, an experience-based exhibition has been mainly developed where works of contemporary artists, which are created on the premise that they are to be touched by visitors, are displayed. In holding the Essence of Appreciation without Sight, we returned to the fundamental perspective of the “exhibition of touchable works,” effective use of collections of the museum, and decided to select and display three bronze works suitable for learning and enjoying by touching.
As can be expected from what has been described, today in the 21st century, an exhibition where visitors touch and appreciate works of sculpture is not unusual. I have also worked on the development and promotion of various types of the “exhibition of touchable works,” mainly at my workplace, the National Museum of Ethnology. However, the “exhibition of touchable works” mostly displays works in an exposure state, and the museum’s preparations are limited to just preparing an environment where visitors can freely touch and appreciate the works. So the decision whether or not to touch the works is up to the visitor. The positioning of “touching” is ambiguous by just displaying works in an exposure state. In order to clarify the positioning, there are cases where eye masks are provided to visitors so that they can concentrate on touching. The purpose of making visitors wear an eye mask is to have them enjoy art by both the sense of touch and the sense of vision.