Have you ever dreamed of smelling the sea and the rainy clouds from Turner’s paintings; or tasting delicious apples and peaches painted by Paul Cezanne; or immersing yourself in the smells of the Bar at the Folies-Bergere in the company of Manet? We, at Museeum, believe that there is no better way to feel the painting than through the perspective of the five senses. This year the winner of the IK Prize, annually awarded for a proposal that uses new technology to enable the public to experience British art from the Tate Collection in unconventional ways, read our minds and offered visitors truly innovative ways to engage with art. Flying Object, a creative studio working closely on better ways of engaging the audience, came up with the idea of Tate Sensorium. Tate Sensorium presents an immersive and unusual display of four paintings from the Tate Collection, where visitors will be encouraged, not only to SEE, but also to TOUCH, SMELL, TASTE and HEAR the artworks.
Featuring sensorial museum experiences around the world Museeum could not miss the opportunity to interview Flying Objects about their sensational sensorial project.
How did you come up with the idea of Tate Sensorium?
"We were really interested in two angles from the IK Prize brief; one, to create an experience using technology that puts looking at a real artwork at its core (not on a screen or recreated); two, to explore how people react and engage differently with artworks - how they can look at the same painting but have different emotional and intellectual reactions to it. Both of these criteria led us to research the senses, reading articles and talking to scientists about how the senses combine to create perception in the brain. There seemed to be something really interesting here - so we followed the thread, and it led us to the Sensorium idea."
Did you work closely with Tate curators on choosing the objects? Were there any other works in the collection that you think would fit in the concept of the exhibition?
"Tate were quite happy for us to pick from a broad selection. Initially we proposed works that came much earlier chronologically, and more broadly, within the collection. We had feedback that the works we selected needed to work better as a group, and in discussion with our creative collaborators we came to the conclusion that we wanted to explore 20th Century painting. Within that brief we still had a lot of options, and it was quite a discussion to edit this down to the final four. Our team of creative collaborators comprises: audio specialist Nick Ryan; master chocolatier Paul A Young; scent expert Odette Toilette; interactive theatre maker Annette Mees; lighting designer Cis O’Boyle; digital agency Make Us Proud; and the Sussex Computer Human Interaction Lab team led by Dr Marianna Obrist at the Department of Informatics, University of Sussex."
What do you think is the future of art experiences? Clearly physical interaction with art plays a central role in your thinking but do you expect that there will still be a place for educating visitors on the history and theory behind art?
I think one of the interesting elements of Tate Sensorium is that we're exploring different ways of educating visitors. Museums tend to be didactic: they write facts on a small card next to the artwork, or have an authoritative voice on an audio guide read these to you.
"It is possible to communicate the history and theory behind artworks in more suggestive ways. I think the future will look a lot like the past. We will still want to look at physical artworks in museums. But those museums will have a broader range of techniques and technologies that they can use to augment the visitor experience, and to extend it before and after they enter and leave the physical space."
How will the Tate Sensorium audience survey provided by E4 wristbands be used?
We're working with a team of scientists at the University of Sussex who are investigating the role of non-visual senses. They will take that data, as well as data from visitor questionnaires, and see what interesting findings come out of it. We'll have a better idea of what that is once we have the data!
Do you have any sensorial memories or associations from your personal museum experiences? Anything you could share with us?
A few years ago I went to an exhibition - at Tate Modern, coincidentally - of the Brazilian conceptual artist Cildo Meireles. His work plays with the senses, especially touch. You were invited to walk across a floor of broken glass - the sound of which was excruciating, and gave a visceral sense of doing something you shouldn't - and in another room, walk through talcum powder towards a candle, in bare feet. The feeling of the powder on the feet, and the effect of being in a private space with just that, the candle, and one other visitor, was extraordinary; immediate, fresh, different, and extremely memorable. I went back two weeks later and did it all over again.
"There are so many ways museums can connect to audiences and more experiences they can offer. They just have to cut through the noise, but that comes through offering experiences that are genuinely interesting, or innovations that are actually useful. I feel a lot of the technology deployed in museums fails the second test," - Tom Pursey.
If you can choose any artwork and reinterpret it from a sensorial perspective, what would that be?
The ones we're displaying in Tate Sensorium are probably at the top of my list! But other than that, I think a Rothko - maybe from the Seagram murals. Colour is a great jumping-off point, and the emotional intensity of works like this would work really well with a sensory palette. I can imagine this working well with any or all of the non-visual senses.