Jul 8, 2011

you're invited to...


PLEASE TOUCH THE ARTWORK is a multi-sensory, contemporary art exhibition that makes art accessible to the visually impaired. 
The exhibition will feature non-visual curatorial methods and artwork that is accessible by its multi-sensory nature.  In addition to advancing the field of art accessibility, the exhibition will also provide a meaningful experience for the sighted, giving participants an opportunity to branch out of strictly visual modes of engagement with artworks.
PLEASE TOUCH THE ARTWORK is a community-based and community-funded project.  While most of the artists represented are located in Chicagoland, the contributors to this project form a much larger, diverse community of activists who are working to increase the accessibility of art around the country.
For more information or questions about the accessible opening event, write to pleasetouchtheartwork@gmail.com

Jun 4, 2011


I have a great group of artists signed up to participate in the exhibition already, but am looking for more.  In particular, I am looking for multi-sensory new media and sound submissions.  See the official call for artists below, or on chicago artist resource.  

PLEASE TOUCH THE ARTWORK is a multi-sensory exhibition of accessible artworks with no "viewing" necessary.  The exhibition will take place in the city of Chicago in a terrific space in Ukrainian Village during the month of July. 

We are now looking specifically for new media and sound artists with practices that branch out of a strictly visual operating sphere.

The exhibition PLEASE TOUCH THE ARTWORK will demonstrate the diverse methods employed by contemporary artists to branch out of the visual realm and utilize feasible curatorial methods to ensure accessibility to the visually impaired.  It will help set a precedent for accessibility reform in American art institutions and send an important message to the visually impaired community that engagement with art objects is not limited to the sighted. 

It will also provide a meaningful experience for those who are not dealing with vision-loss, as it will allow "non-viewers" to confront their reliance on vision and embrace a multi-sensory mode of engagement with the exhibition.

For more information about the project, visit these sites:
To submit to PLEASE TOUCH THE ARTWORK, email a description of your practice and the kind of work you'd like to contribute to pleasetouchtheartwork@gmail.com

Exhibition Space

I have secured an excellent space for the exhibition in Chicago's Ukrainian Village, on Chicago Avenue.  Installation will be taking place during the first few weeks of July, with the opening on July 16th from 5-9pm.  Looking forward to seeing you there!  The exact address will be posted next week, so be sure to check back!

May 12, 2011


PLEASE TOUCH THE ARTWORK is now completely funded!  We hope to see you on July 16th, here in Chicago.  Thank you to everyone who made this possible, especially our generous backers on kickstarter, and those who helped spread the word during the last few months of fund-raising!

May 3, 2011

NEXT 2011

NEXT 2011 was a huge success for Robert Bills Contemporary, and was a great experience for me.  I am thrilled with the quality and amount of work we sold, but also glad this crazy whirlwind of a week has come to an end!

One fun part of the weekend was getting to meet one of my PLEASE TOUCH THE ARTWORK artists in person for the first time.  She is an extremely talented artist who informed me that she will be making an installation piece specifically for this show.  I could not be more thrilled at the level of commitment and interest so many people I have encountered through this process have shown--including this artist.

Another interesting experience I had while working at the fair this weekend has to do with an interactive piece we were showing in our booth.  A very young, up-and-coming artist I discovered only a few weeks ago, who will be a part of the group show I am curating in June at RBC, showed a piece called "Cycle II," that was a huge hit.  The sculpture was a large, wheel-like structure made of wood, with a diorama-style landscape that inhabits the inner part of the wheel.  Viewers are invited to turn a crank, which rotates the wheel, allowing different views of the landscape as it moves around the circle.  The piece was a huge hit and sold before the fair was even officially open.  The immense popularity of this interactive piece allowed for many conversations with people enthusiastic about the idea of being able to "touch the artwork."  It affirmed for me the importance of this project not only for the visually-impaired, but as a step towards a more open and interactive environment for the exhibiting of art.


...to my wonderful new backers: Nathan Vernau, Stephen Croncota, Gary Angel, Carol Lau, Kay and Steve Fike, Jay Lefton, Elona Baum, Paul Novak, my lovely grandmother Lucille Stein, Phil Schlein, A-J Aronstein, and Jan Nussbaum.  I am so appreciative of your support!

Apr 18, 2011


...to Mark Bassewitz and Jennifer Miller for your generous pledges on kickstarter!  I so appreciate your support!

Apr 17, 2011


...to Lee Shapiro and Manal for your amazingly generous pledges on kickstarter.com!  I am so appreciative of your support!

Apr 16, 2011


to Annie and Saul!!  I am so appreciative of your support!


...to Dr. Jacque Duncan for your amazingly generous pledge on kickstarter, and your support of PLEASE TOUCH THE ARTWORK! I am so appreciative of your efforts!

Apr 14, 2011

New Kickstarter Video

Check out the video I made to gain support on kickstarter!  I'd love to know what you think!  See it on the kickstarter site here.  You can also play it in the sidebar to the right ---->

Apr 7, 2011


...Norrie Meth for your generous pledge on kickstarter.com!  I so appreciate your support!

Apr 4, 2011


...to Lauren Leighton for your generous pledge!  I appreciate your support as a backer of the project!

Sensory Translation

While I have been dedicating most of my effort lately to fund-raising for PLEASE TOUCH THE ARTWORK, a large part of the Project for Art Accessibility is also the research I am doing into the resources available at art institutions across the nation.  Through my research I have discovered diverse methods innovative museum educators like Lisa (her guest post is below), are experimenting with to make art accessible to the visually impaired.  

One theme that has emerged in these experimental techniques is that of sensory translation.  By this I mean that the accessibility is achieved by attempting to translate a visual experience into an audio or tactile experience.  Visual description tours, touch tours, and tactile diagrams are some of the tools being implemented at museums around the country that operate on this principle of sensory translation.

While some museums have started to experiment with ways to translate the visual experience into other senses in order to provide options for the visually impaired, PLEASE TOUCH THE ARTWORK aims to exhibit artwork that becomes accessible by its multi-sensory nature, with no sensory translation necessary. The exhibit does not imitate the visual experience in other forms, rather, it replaces it with equally meaningful, non-visual interactions. This is what truly sets it apart from any current effort to increase the accessibility of art to the visually impaired, and what makes it an engaging experience for everyone.  The multi-sensory artwork can be experienced by all the way it was intended to, with no filtering or translating.

A great example of this kind of artwork is the non-visual performance that was given by local artist Fereshteh Toosi at the Defibrillator Performance Art Gallery.  "Viewers" placed their hand through a hole in a screen that physically separated them the artist.  In a 'blind' interaction, the artist presented the 'viewer' with a surprising tactile experience, by massaging people's hands with olive oil and using other food items as props such as mung beans, a canteloupe, and spaghetti. At the end, everyone got an olive or two slipped onto the tips of their fingers.  Toosi's performance addresses critical themes of contemporary art such as viewer/artist interaction, the space of the body in performance art, and the blind trust inherent in the institutional consumption of art objects, in addition to being fully and equally accessible to all.  Both the blind and the sighted can relate to, understand and analyze this artwork with no sensory translation.


...to Rachael Siegel and Kristin White, for your generous pledges on kickstarter!  Thanks for helping to make this project a reality!

Apr 2, 2011

Guest Post by Lisa Davis, Museum Educator

Today we are so lucky to feature a guest post from Lisa Davis, a museum educator right here in Chicago who is dedicated to making museums accessible to everyone.  Thank you Lisa!  Lisa is one of the people helping make PLEASE TOUCH THE ARTWORK a reality!  We have just a little over a month left to raise funds for this project, so please stop by our kickstarter page and pledge to help make art accessible to the visually impaired!

'How do you experience an art museum? What do you see, feel, smell, and touch? How do you relate to the environment of the museum and the visual works around you?  What do you first think about when viewing a work?  What personal connections do you make with an art piece and how does that happen? 
As a museum educator these are all questions I consider for my audience.  I specifically work with teachers and students (K-12), writing tours of the collections and traveling exhibitions and creating resources the teachers can use to integrate art into their classroom learning.  But, more than anything else I do, I feel my most important role is to ensure all visitors have the opportunity to experience the visual arts. I believe that there should be no constraints—emotional, physical, financial, or otherwise— as obstacles to this important personal experience.
The questions above, you will notice, are often based on the sensory understanding.  Before a viewer can notice details, make connections to any art historical context, or interpret a work, they will experience it through their senses first, as with any moment in life.  So when thinking about this sensory reading, how do we include people who are without one or more of these senses? In the context of the environment in which I work, the art museum, the most outstanding concern is the visual. 
How can we ensure a person with low or no vision is able to experience a visual art piece?  I used to ask this question as, “How can we ensure…..is able to experience a visual piece in the same way as a person with no impairment?” until I realized I was asking the wrong question.  Instead of trying to force the square peg, I needed to reconsider my definition of how people see. 
As I begin to see more and more art museums developing “touch tours” or including multi-sensory tools for visitors, it seems my belief is shared by many educators in the art/museum world.  An added benefit is how these multi-sensory tools can be integrated to enhance the experience for others as well.  Often museums will have large print text of wall labels and most offer audio guides.  Over the past few years efforts have increased: Some museums are allowing—with gloves, small groups and special permissions—viewers to touch, to feel the contours of a sculpture. Some have developed tours that use music to describe the emotional sense or dynamics of a work, include three-dimensional recreations to touch, and have materials, similar to those used in the work itself, available to touch, or even smell, along the way.  Tours are led by docents well-educated in the Sighted Guide technique and Verbal Description, as they guide groups of varying sight abilities through the museum.
There are really incredible resources available to those of us who strive to be inclusive.  Art Education for the Blind (www.artbeyondsight.org) is especially strong.  This organization out of New York, established in 1987, has developed a wide variety of resources for teachers, museum educators, and other seeking to bring the visual arts to everyone.  They also provide accessibility training for museum staff, which may also include Visitor Services departments, to help ensure a positive museum experience overall.  AEB and the American Association for Museums are two organizations which have begun to research and publish information about accessibility in museums.  The National Endowment for the Arts’ Office for AccessAbility is a wonderful resource as well, as we attempt to meet and exceed government and ADA standards and regulations.
I understand the logistical challenges and sometimes financial obstacles that keep institutions from moving forward quickly.  I know there are bureaucratic issues that present barriers at some museums, and I know accessibility is one pet project among many. I am fairly new to this field and am not informed enough to speak on how this topic is being addressed in the larger scale, internationally, or in Museum Studies programs, which turn out amazing museum educators annually.  But from a personal perspective I have seen great strides made in the art world to include all visitors in the visual experience.  It no longer seems museums are considered, as one Newsweek article quoted in 2009, "essentially visual institutions.” The art museum has become an experience for seeing, in every sense of the word.'

Submitted by Lisa Davis, Museum Educator, 2011

Mar 29, 2011


...John Herbstritt, Fereshteh, Kathy Kerr-Schochet, James Duesterberg, and Tatiana Natzke for your pledges on kickstarter.com!  I so appreciate your support!

Mar 24, 2011


...for your generous pledge on kickstarter Adrienne Cotterell!!  I am so glad to have you as a backer!

Mar 23, 2011

Profile of the project on Tasty Spoonful

AJ Aronstein captured the spirit and intent of the project wonderfully when he wrote,

"Please Touch the Artwork is not about the exemplarity (and by this I mean, the spectacular or exceptional) of the disabled body and its relationship with art–but about creating a more inclusive definition of the kind of multi-sensory art that belongs in the space of the gallery and museum."

Thanks for the profile, AJ!  Be sure to read the whole article on Tasty Spoonful here.

Mar 14, 2011

"Without You I'm Nothing: Interactions" at the MCA

The Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago is currently presenting a series of performances called "Without You I'm Nothing: Interactions" January 4 - May 1, 2011, a component of the exhibition "Without You I'm Nothing."  While the exhibition at large examines how artists have incorporated the museum audience or "viewers" into conceptual pieces over the last few decades, this performance series specifically provides an opportunity to experience the promised inclusion the exhibition puts on display.  A full list of the performances can be found here.  I have highlighted the ones below that operate outside of the visual realm.  These performances are good examples of the kind of work PLEASE TOUCH THE ARTWORK aims to highlight, namely, contemporary art that is accessible because of its purposeful operation outside of the hegemonic viewer-object relationship normally supported by museums.  As this exhibition and performance series shows, artwork has been created over the last few decades in order to push the boundaries of traditional "viewing" practices.  These pieces can be engaged with by the visually impaired as they were intended to be, with no sensory translation necessary.

Nance Klehm: Culture of Soil
February 5: Sat 3 pm
In traditional agricultural communities, the new moon marks the beginning of spring when the tree sap starts running. On Saturday at 3 pm, Klehm hosts an outdoor fire in the MCA's Sculpture Garden where maple syrup tea is made and shared, then the work continues on a walk where Klehm tells stories about the uses of trees within the urban landscape.

Coppice (Noé Cuéllar and Joseph Kramer): Vinculum (Coincidence)
February 8-13: Tues, 1-3 pm and 5-7 pm; Wed-Sun 1-3 pm
Live performances for two accordions with four speakers play back pre-recorded sounds. The gallery is filled with multiple sounds, all at a moderate volume. The score is procedural, deriving its instructions from coincidences between two accordions as they intersect with the pre-recorded material and the activity in the space.

Dexter Bullard: The Dialogues
March 15-20: Tues 7-8 pm; Thurs-Sat 3-4 pm
These performances involve pairs of well known Chicago-rooted performers who have a conversation over the phone, not knowing who they are talking to. The audience listens in on the conversation while a guest sound artist mixes a hypnotic sonic sound, adding an additional dimension to the changing tone of the conversations.

Jonathan Chen: 19 situations for six improvisers: a system for hearing
March 29 - April 2: Tues 7-8 pm; Thurs and Sat, 2-3 pm
In this improvisational work each musician is provided with a pair of headphones to listen to another performer. The musicians improvise in response to the other musicians they hear, although this changes throughout the performance. Audience members are able to use the headphones to hear exactly the same sound as the musician they are near. The audience can experience the multiple perspectives central to the work by moving between the spaces occupied by each musician and listening to what the musicians are hearing through the headphones.

Amber Ginsburg and Lia Rousset: Viewing Soundscapes: Tapping the Audience
April 12-17: during museum hours
Tapping the Audience invites the audience to slip on a pair of tap shoes, amplifying the gallery experience and creating an audible acknowledgment of our physical patterns of viewing.