Above: Tactile for Luis Cruz Azaceta, Cloud, 2014, Archival pigment print
Last spring, Brian Slocum received a call from the Lehigh University Art Galleries. At this time LUAG was in the midst of realizing their Accessible Art Initiative, which entailed creating audio descriptions and 3D, touchable representations for select works in their current exhibitions. LUAG inquired if Brian could possibly create these 3D representations, otherwise known as tactiles, with a 3D printer. He carefully considered the question and suggested that the tactiles would be a perfect project for his students in his 3D Design Foundation class.
Brian is the Managing Director of Lehigh’s Design Labs, and oversees the Wilbur Powerhouse Prototyping Lab as well as the Chandler-Ullmann Wood Shop. These labs include a wide array of design tools and mediums. He also teaches classes, one of them being 3D Design Foundations, a class requirement for all Art, Architecture and Design students. The class introduces the study of design and the physicalizing of design concepts. “It is amazing to see students coming in not knowing the difference between a flat-head screw driver and a Philips screwdriver, and they leave being able to use band saws and laser cutters,” he stated when describing the class.
Brian foresaw that the LUAG tactile project would give the students a great opportunity. For one, the project would allow students to put what they learned in class to practical use. The fact that the project would impact someone’s experience of art in the real world would be great motivation for the students. The project would also provide a unique approach to design. Most design is approached from a visual angle, and the sense of touch is addressed afterward. The tactile project would require an approach with the sense of touch in mind first, since it would be touch that would be most important to the user. This would force the students to approach design in a very unique way.
During the summer semester of 2015 four tactiles for works in the exhibition “…Of The America’s” were completed by four students in Brian’s class. This September ten students from his class visited LUAG and chose artworks from the exhibition “Object As Subject” for tactile projects. Over the next couple of months these students will experiment with tools and materials and use what they learn for their tactile projects, which they will complete at the end of the semester.
LUAG looks forward to integrating the student’s tactiles into their museum experience.The finished tactiles will be available to visitors who wish to experience art with their touching sense. Select works in current exhibitions will be accompanied with a tactile and either an audio description or recorded educational guide. By providing these tools for visitors, LUAG hopes to attract a broader visitor base and welcome visitors with visual impairment.