Engage, experience and share….looking at the multimodal approach.
MaMoMi Initiative director Andrew Mashigo shares some insights from the pilot multisensory workshop which recently held in London, exploring the multimodal approach in the interpretation of visual art to the blind, visually impaired and deafblind. Photograph: MaMoMi initiative.
The way we all experience life continues to evolve, and our experience of the arts is not devoid of that evolution. The platform and environment for such experiences continues to be enlarged, and over the last one year we have taken the decision to engage, explore and evaluate the multisensory process with renewed interest. The multimodal approach enables artists, art practitioners, artist educators and institutional platforms to communicate the message of art, from traditional, modern, contemporary, to conceptual art. On reflection, It is safe to say that all human communication is inherently multimodal.
When we use the word 4-D, we are referring to the 4 dimensions of senses that supports vision perception; touch, taste, smell and sound. Talking 4-D is talking multimodal, not just 2-D or 3-D which generally engages the geometric or form elements in art, sometimes isolating one or another experience, whereas 4-D for us brings together the use of a rich variety of our existing senses, thereby engaging a fuller and richer experience.
In the context of viewing and enjoying art, we believe that a culture of full engagement with the arts, especially within Museums and other cultural institutions and organisations that collect and conserve art, will enable not only a wider audience but also greater involvement in the arts.
Why the multisensory approach?
Participation in the arts has for very many years gone beyond the traditional realms of the artwork displayed on the museum walls or on plinths. Especially with the advent of conceptual art, the expression and appreciation of arts has for many years taken a new direction, and with new purposes.
When i visit an event or show, i don’t expect to engage just one of my senses. Yes, i admit the art galleries or museums are predominantly visual environments but as mentioned earlier, all human communication is inherently multimodal, whether you are delivering a public speech or watching a football game.
The current World Cup in Brazil is a particular case in point. Audiences watching the football games are not just watching 2 opposing teams trying to outscore each other. The audiences are now presented with a spectacle of an event involving great games and great viewing, but also some very inspiring advertising that can exploit our other needs and commercial interests, like world cup-themed musical events, and even a newer ways of placing bets, not that i am a betting man! The occasion is the football world cup but the outlook impacts communities, business and society in very many ways. So, for 32 days, the whole world is literally held spell-bound by this event in Brazil. Now, that is capturing football audiences to newer levels and reaches.
The multimodal approach to art interpretation allows us to communicate in ways previously not appreciated, enabling a richer, more valuable experience of the arts, especially as in our case, it encourages involvement in visual arts among the blind, visually impaired and deafblind. Integrating this interactive approach is also very valuable when working with people with special needs and other disabilities. Interpretation here is about learning through exploration.
Watching You. 2003
Tactile representation by Tactile Graphics Europe. Photograph: Iris Media Studios
The touch: the Somatosensory experience.
The sense of touch allows us to make a direct connection with objects and surfaces, helping us make viable links with our immediate physical environment. Touch is known in many ways as our first language because as new-born babies, the first thing we do with our mother is to have a sustained cuddle, that crucial connection that aids the mother-child bonding process.
The haptic (active) perception of the tactile process helps us recognize objects, either through its texture, density, weight or temperature. Active touch is different from passive or phlegmatic touch which is inert, whereas with the active we can make viable connection; we explore the character and attributes of the object. Is it soft?; Is it rough?; Is it cold?; Is it conical?; is it hollow? Investigating these various elements helps us make a positive identification of the explored object.
The image shown above is a tactile representation of one of my paintings, a mixed media 3-dimensional painting titled “Watching You”, 2003. The task was to create a replica image that could be used in interpretation sessions at various events and for long periods, without compromising the condition of the original painting. This full-colour thermoplastic print has raised outlines that helps identify selected images in the composition. Identifying the colours is achieved by the use textured sections using lines, dots and raised patterns, all supporting the viable interpretation of the artwork. The tactile image also has braille embedded so added information can be included.
Taste session using cake. Cake by Rachael Hill. Photograph: Iris Media Studios.
The taste: Gustatory perception.
Taste is a very tangible sensation and 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. Rachael Hill, Co-curator of the workshop, says she really admires the transient nature of food, and adds that this and the process of baking is something that she gets satisfaction from, something she enjoys sharing with others.
Someone once said “Food is the most revealing part of culture…” and this duality of senses experiment surely provoked a lot of dialogue. Using shortbread biscuits and cakes made in the shape of selected artworks, the participants are able to explore the relationship between the sense of touch, taste and smell. These food items were made in response to some contemporary artworks but were not created as replicas, but instead helping to bring or align viable links between the food items and the artworks. Participants engaged the touch of the baked item, the quality of its sweet taste and the aroma that evoked a rich exploration.
This session created great debate among the participants and helped us take a critical point of view of the relation between our senses.
Photograph: Iris Media Studios
The Smell: Olfactory perception.
The 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 this close association to highlight this viable connection. The food and taste session used biscuits and cakes that had a good amount of seasoning, which on tasting the baked item was identified as a key part of identifying elements in the biscuit and cakes.
Interestingly, sweet smells create a pleasurable feeling while an unpleasant smell very quickly makes for an association with the repugnant.
Art-making session, after touch, taste and smell session. Photograph: Iris Media Studios
The Sound: Auditory sense.
The ability to perceive sound is achieved by the auditory sense, or the auditory perception. Sound is usually detected by the vibrations.
Connecting sound with a place or occasion is a great way to make a connection with or recalling the memory of a place or time. After exploring the senses of touch, taste, smell and sound, we got the participants to make an art piece in response to the session. Here, one of the participants creates an image on the cake canvas.
The multimodal approach is not a new approach but we enjoyed exploring the duality of senses. This pilot session was concluded with broad agreement of the continued need to explore various components that can enrich communication. The interactive is fun, educational and informative and we don’t think the experience may be limited if the process needs to be measurable and sometimes specific. on the contrary, just as with any viable objective or goals, evaluation is key to determining the value of any future proposals. The risk otherwise is to lose what is learnt in the various dialogues between the senses. It is equally important that we are able to capture what resonates with our audience.
A major exhibition in response to this 4-D experience workshop is currently been developed and more information will be circulated in the near future.
Curator and lead facilitator: Andrew Mashigo
Co-Curator and facilitator: Rachael Hill
Facilitator: Laurence Van Der Noordaa
Project Manager: Paul Lewis
Cinematographer: Dr Seth, IRIS Media Studios
Tactile graphics: Touch Graphics Europe
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