Date published: 22/02/2017

Touching artworks is generally prohibited at museums and art galleries; move too close to exhibited artworks and a gallery attendant may request that you step away, displayed works may be encased within the protective barrier of custom housing and some may even have the added protection of a proximity alarm.

The well-known “do not touch” policy is without doubt necessary for the conservation and safety of many artworks, ensuring future generations can enjoy the works on display in our favourite cultural institutions. However, as galleries expand their audiences and access policies, new forms of experiencing artworks have emerged by way of 'Tactile Tours'.
The Tate Gallery London, the Victoria and Albert Museum, and the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), to name but a few, have for the past decade offered Tactile Tours for art-enthusiasts who are blind or vision-impaired; with visitors able to experience both sculptural and objects based artworks. Exhibitions such as Taktilt – inte se men ror, En utsallning for synskadade och seende (Tactile – don’t see, but touch), 1994, Nationalmuseum, Stockholm, a collection of works targeted to both vision impaired and sighted people, have paved the way for curators to re-consider how art is presented and experienced by audiences. Australia’s own cultural institutions have offered such programs for many years, expanding perceptions and offering multi-sensory experiences of the visual, performance and sound-based artworks.
In September 2016, on the occasion of the VisabilityWA Technology Outlook Expo, Artsource artists partnered with DADAA (Disability in the Arts, Disadvantage in the Arts, Australia) to deliver demonstrations of their innovative 'Access All Arts' - tactile and audio description tours for people who are blind, vision impaired or deafblind. Across a two-day event, artists Alanna McVeigh, Pascal Proteau, Karen Millar and Sarah Wilkinson kindly donated artworks selected for their particular tactile or sound-based qualities.
During the Expo, participants were invited to handle, manipulate and explore these artworks; discussing their experiences, associations and ideas behind the works with their guides and the artists. What emerged was a series of exchanges and shared experiences between the artists and participants of art beyond sight. 
I very much enjoyed being part of the Visability Expo, exhibition and the generosity of each person I met throughout the event.
For me, the experience provided a greater insight into how much vital information is provided through the sense of touch, particularly when sight is impaired. Amid discussion with each visitor to the exhibition, they articulated how the transition between each ceramic surface; texture, markings and the smooth coolness of the gloss glaze; an image is evoked through the haptic system.  Environmental associations, in this case the Western Australian coastline, ignited an image linked by what is felt on the surface of each ceramic vessel, and what has previously been experienced; the ocean, sand and limestone and so forth, providing an insight and perspective highlighting , just how valuable the sense of touch is in providing accurate information to a community where sight is not the most dominant sense.”  Alana McVeigh


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