Day 4 - (or the one with the touch workshop and get out)

It was almost business as usual for the Shape team by now. Liz Porter, who, as a storyteller and artist, has worked on a number of interesting projects dealing with interwoven access and creative narratives, seemed fully at home as we set out a table of art objects kindly loaned to us by Tate’s access and public programme team (thank you Marcus Dickey-Horley and Anna Murray!). These objects are used as part of touch tours, occasionally combined with other sensory elements, such as objects you can smell. 

smooth ceramic object with grey hues, the shape of an oval bar of soap, with a hole near to the narrow end; the object has a small exhibition tag with artist details in small print

a group of people of varying ages and backgrounds sit around a large square table on which rest art objects for handling and inspection by participants

Artist and blogger Fae Kilburn takes us through the session: 'The workshop was a sensory session. Liz had a wonderful array of objects on a table, with questions next to them, one object was a wooden figure sculpture, the question was (write five words that describe me, what am I made of, if I could talk what would I say?) with our eyes closed we had to touch the objects, guess what you thought it was and answer the questions that were being read out to us.

There was some wonderful responses, two girls came up with a whole story for the two sculptures and named them but were also surprised when they guessed objects incorrectly, confusing a very flat textured bronze figure for a fish.

Two young boys gave brilliant audio descriptions and then went on to look at the Adam Reynolds memorial short listed art work on display and did audio description for this as well. They really understood that someone without vision was going to be able to gain an insight into the art work through their words.

There was a couple who spent ages with all the objects and handed them to each other, getting completely lost in the moment.

Blind people asked different questions about the objects, they were more interested in finding out about what colour the object were. I found it interesting watching and listening to people interacting with the objects'.

participants crowd around a table on which objects have been set out; an assistance dog indicates at least one of the participants is blind

two participants sit at a table with artist Liz Porter at a table with art objects set on it

a young woman stands before a large board on which have been posted numerous drawings and written responses to the art handling workshop at tate exchange

A post it note reads: I never considered how blind people see art; thank you for the introduction

Images above: participants and creatives responses to the art objects handling workshop. The post it reads: I never considered how blind people might 'see' art. Thank you for the introduction.

Colin Hambrook, editor of Disability Arts Online, was also one of those attending. Colin noted: 

The objects ranged from a small tactile model of Anna Berry’s Dole Scum II to a Giacometti-type maquette, a marble pillar, a white cane and a model of a fruit pie. It was an opportunity for those taking part to exercise their imaginations in a playful way. In making up stories about the objects in relation to each other, one participant imagined the white cane guiding the fruit pie to somewhere it wouldn’t be eaten.

young boy at a table of papers and pens; he has his back to us and appears to be busy scribbling or drawing

wide-angled view of the art showcase at tate exchange; in the background two women are interviewing a man in a wheelchair (recognisable as Tony Heaton OBE)

 a man sits with a microphone held up close to him as if he is speaking into it or listening to platyback; other people are in the middle of activities in the backgrounda man regards the ipad he is holding whilst standing before a floor installation of eggshellsa young woman with her back to us scrawls on a wall of other messages and drawings made by the public at tate exchange

in the foreground, under a curatorial notice, a plate of eggshells acts as a model for touch exploring the larger eggshell installation it sits adjacent to, although the installation is out of the picture; in the background three woman are talking

people of diverse backgrounds exploring the tate exchange art showcasetwo young men add to a series of sketched responses on a chalkboard; other sketches and scrawls are pinned to a board adjacent to them

Images of participants immediately above: c. Andy Barker

Ahead of us lay the task of packing up, shipping out, and, beyond this, to work out what we had gained and learned from TEx, and to evaluate it in various ways. This blog is part of that process. On this subject, an interesting comparison can be made from the feedback following the symposium and the artist workshops - below I have pasted word cloud representations for each one.

The first shows the six key words used to describe the symposium as informative, interesting, inspiring, important, educational, and engaging; whereas for workshops, the six key words were: inspiring, interesting, fun, stimulating, informative and thought-provoking.

I like the fact that the workshops were described as enjoyable as well making people think, and that with the symposium there was a sense that what was being learnt was of significance and genuine relevance to the attendees.

Other words like empowering and challenging, suggested that the symposium had given attendees a sense of mission and purpose to accompany them away, and that in the workshops, a sense of relaxed warmth and communion with others had resulted, as well as a sense of having learned something or experienced something worthwhile.  

word cloud image with prominent words showing, such as informative, interesting, inspiring, educational, engaging

Word cloud illustrating feedback taken at the Symposium

word cloud image featuring prominent words such as inspiring, interesting, informative, thought-provoking, stimulating

Word cloud illustrating feedback taken at the workshops

Tate Exchange in numbers

947 visitors in 4 days

93 audioboom posts created receiving 832 visits

53 symposium attendees, with 20% blind or partially sighted participants

3000+ online audiences

6 blind or partially sighted artists in lead roles

Overall, looking back over the four days, I think Colin Hambrook best summarised our programme, as well as our intentions, at Tate Exchange:

The way audio description is incorporated within all aspects of approach to the gallery, the website, marketing as well as exhibitions themselves, was at the heart of Ways of Seeing Art. As things stand, many visually impaired people would be sceptical of the idea of visiting a gallery or museum, as lack of access is a given. New worlds can be opened up with object-handling sessions and guided talks. With a bit of thought audio-guides can incorporate description, making artwork accessible to blind people. It’s not necessarily a difficult thing to do, or something that is going to incur extra expense for the gallery.

Our huge thanks again to the many artists and contributors who made up the programme, especially lead artist Zoe Partington. removal van being loaded with artworks from tate exchange, with Anna Berry

We'd like to thank the Tate team for their support and passionate enthusiasm, and I would like to thank the whole Shape team for the same. A special mention here for our volunteers, who in particular ensured the weekend sessions ran smoothly, that everyone was welcomed and that everything was in place. Our warmest thanks go to: Anahita Harding, Bethany Green, Jessica Ryan-Ndegwa, Kat Kolanyane-Kesupile, Ramon Salgado-Touzon and Sam Castell-Ward. 

Post script

Since then, we have published a number of resources, which you can find at links through our Tate Exchange blogs, as well as our youtube channel and our audioboom pages. To read our top tips of producing an audio description, you can download a word document by clicking this link here

Our thanks go to Ian Rattray who assisted in the producing of an audiobook version of our audio description booklet, which you can listen to via the link below:      

Join in on our conversation, tweet @ShapeArts using the hashtag #WaysofSeeingArt to let us know your thoughts.


Banner image c. Andy Barker; body images by project team members apart from where identified as by Andy Barker

Colin Hambrook excerpts taken from his editorial piece on the Disability Arts Online website:

Fae Kilburn excerpt taken from her blog:  

For other Shape blogs, click here