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4D exhibition in Netherlands creates sensory experience for sight impaired visitors

A blind visitor touches artwork at The Blind Spot exhibition

The Blind Spot exhibition at the Centraal Museum, Utrecht recreated two artworks, one with real food, to make visual art more accessible for blind and partially sighted visitors.

The art experience was initiated and developed by artist Jasper Udink ten Cate and Experience Designer Jeroen Prins.

Cate and Prins works are based on original still life paintings: Still life with fruits, nuts and cheese by Floris Claesz van Dijck (c 1613, Frans Hals Museum collection) and Still Life (tray with apples) by Bart van der Leck (1921, Centraal Museum Utrecht collection).

The idea

The idea came when the creative pair served food to accompany an artwork at a food performance event. A blind woman who visited the event said she was very moved by the experience which was the starting point to design this new art experience.

“We presented a ‘4D art experience’ for both visitors who can see and visitors who are visually impaired or blind,” said Prins. “The 4D artworks do not focus on the aspect of sight, but appeal to other senses: smell, hearing and touch. With this presentation, we want to make visual art more accessible for blind and partially sighted visitors.”

The artworks were supported by an audio tour and visitors were encouraged to actually touch the works of art and literally feel the food.

Making art more accessible

“Our aim is to make visual art more accessible for blind and partially sighted visitors,” said Prins. “At the same time, visitors who can see experience the works of art blindfolded which allows all visitors to experience art in a new way.”

The exhibition was a collaboration with the Centraal Museum, Accessibility, Saxion Hogeschool Enschede and Big Orange Audio Agency.

Centraal Museum was established in 1838 as the first municipal museum in the Netherlands. In 2013 it became a private foundation to create ‘even more efficient management and more clout’. The museum tells the story of Utrecht and its connections with the world through a collection of modern art, contemporary art, early art, urban history, fashion and costumes.

The museum says it regularly organises community-oriented projects including workshops for people with dementia and residents of asylum seekers’ centres.

“This is the first time the museum has offered a 4D experience,” said Centraal Museum’s Head of Inclusion, Steffie Maas. “We are continuing to research how we can lower the threshold for visitors who’re experiencing restrictions during their museum visit. Facilities for visually impaired people are part of that.”

Visitor reactions

Visitors to the exhibition, such as Francis ter Horst who is visually impaired, said it was ‘totally mind blowing’ and Amanda de Bruin, who is totally blind said the art experience gave her the ability ’to actually see art’. And Farid el Manssouri, who is visually impaired said he could ‘feel warm and cold structures’ which gave him the sense of light and shadow.

Cate and Prins’s future ambition is to design a large art exhibition, which can travel around the world and make more of an impact.

The Blind Spot exhibition ran at Centraal Museum from 5 to 18 August and is now on its way to the Salone del Mobile in Milan where it will be displayed from 5 to 10 September.

About the author – Adrian Murphy

Adrian is the Editor of MuseumNext and has 20 years’ experience as a journalist, half of which has been writing for the cultural sector.

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