Catalog Essay by Jessica Lantos:
What happens when the museum experience moves from being object-oriented to user-oriented? How does one understand and experience a work of art without its most essential sensory tool -- sight? Design student Natacha Poggio asks these questions in her work and attempts to find answers in a variety of ways that converge the practical with the cerebral. In order to address the needs of an audience with disabilities, she aims to improve the overall quality of the user experience not only in the museum, but also in a variety of settings beyond it. Further, to move the emphasis away from the visual, she employs primarily tactile and aural methods for people to experience activities like enjoying a work of art, learning how to read Braille, or using the Internet.
Concerned with accessibility, user experience, universal design, and interactive environments, Poggio works towards finding solutions to assist visually impaired individuals through design, technology, and human sensory perception. In her statement, she writes:
First and foremost, Poggio provides design solutions for a population with different abilities, however, as her work has progressed, she has come to realize that any individual without disabilities can augment their experiences by utilizing all their senses, not just sight. In the same way her work can be applied to a wider audience, so too can the work of art be reconsidered in a new light.
Through her design, Poggio inverts the work of art's experiential effects. The art object, which is fundamentally visual, has the capacity to affect us emotionally or intellectually. This lasting impression is what makes each work unique and Poggio uses that final impression as her starting point. Without the traditional work of art to view, she is forced to use other means to convey those same impressions. One method is to install a table with various materials on it to allow gallery visitors to touch the work as she has done with the work of several artists in Shade. In this fashion, her design is both derivative and completely original.
While the museum is one problematic site where Poggio hopes to provide greater access to these groups, daily challenges are pervasive and not confined to just physical spaces like a museum, store, or home. The products and environments she has created are as equally diverse as the circumstances that necessitate them. To enable visually impaired people to recognize different monetary values on dollar bills, she embossed a series of dashes and dots on the notes' corners. To teach Braille to children, she devised an interactive game using touch and sound that can be learned independently, without another person's assistance. To make artwork accessible to museum visitors who cannot see a painting or a sculpture, she re-creates specific pieces in ways that can be understood in non-visual terms. In this capacity, she recreates the work so that it may be understood with different senses. Some of her ideas include reproducing paintings with Braille dots or using music to evoke a certain mood that seeing a painting or sculpture could perhaps similarly evoke. The ways to accomplish this are infinite and Poggio is just beginning to scratch the surface.
In museums, there have been significant advancements to
provide access to people with disabilities: wider hallways for
wheelchairs, audio tours, and rampways. However, the actual
connection made between the audience and the object in this
context remains largely understudied and underserviced. In a
setting where touching is absolutely forbidden, how can a
person who is blind perceive thick Expressionist
brushstrokes or perfectly polished marble contours? Many
arts institutions make little effort to create a learning and
interactive environment in this respect; this is where
Poggio's efforts play a larger role in re-thinking what an
artwork is and how it may be perceived.