A few strict rules usually accompany museum visits, and these include “No Photographs” and “No Touching.” Now a new 3D printing technique is being applied to buck these conventional rules, allowing sight-impaired visitors more access to great works of art through an unusual pathway: they can touch printed recreations of great works to their heart’s content in specific exhibits designed for just this purpose.
Museums have long struggled to create accessible exhibits for sight-impaired visitors, with guided tours being one of the most commonly offered. However, the guided tour relies quite a bit on verbal description, leaving much to be desired regarding communicating a sense of the objects’ spatial dimensions. Touch tours have also been used, where sight-impaired visitors can actually touch sculptures in a museum’s collection while under close supervision and guidance from museum staff.
We’ve seen a few uses of 3D printing to help the visually impaired experience visual arts. Now, a 3D printing technique called Didú is introducing yet another way to include the sight-impaired in art appreciation by allowing them to truly feel the artworks.
Madrid, Spain’s Prado Museum has launched an exhibit titled “Touching the Prado” which features Didú reprints of six painting masterpieces from its collection including Velazquez’s “The Triumph of Bacchus” and “Apollo in the Forge of Vulcan,” El Greco’s “Nobleman with His Hand on His Chest,” and Goya’s “The Parasol.” The paintings are photographed and 3D printed to create almost a textual guide to the original paintings (see video below or photographs here).
Didú is a technique created by Bilbao, Spain-based design agency Estudios Durero, which describes the technique on their website as “relief printing which allows us to get closer to art in a different way” by adding volume and texture to what is usually a flat representation. Or in the cases of paintings with texture, paintings are off-limits for touching because touch can alter the paintings’ sensitive constitution. As the Washington Post has described the Didú technique, it takes about 40 hours to achieve the detailed effects of volume and texture in a high resolution photograph of an original artwork. After the printing, it takes another 12 hours to apply a chemical that brings volume to otherwise flat surfaces. The outcome is an original interpretation of the original — a tactile image — that can bring out entirely different dimensions in art that all can enjoy.
Instead of having the paintings’ details described, now they can also be felt — offering a different sensory experience to great works of art. In fact, by touching one’s way through an artwork, the sight-impaired can create a mental map of the entire piece, and potentially develop a more emotional response to the experience as well. The exhibit, which museum officials developed in collaboration with visual impairment professionals, includes braille-based educational materials, audio guides for visitors, and even opaque glasses to enhance the experience for fully-sighted visitors.
The impetus for the exhibit was that the museum lagged behind creating accessible exhibits for sight-impaired visitors although they had recently offered exhibits focusing on those experiencing Alzheimer’s-related dementia and autism. Didú’s special facilitation of art appreciation through touch creates almost a revolution for the sight-impaired when it comes to experiencing art, and it is also a welcome technology for sighted people to experience art in a radical new way: by touching it!
The exhibit is running through June 28, 2015 and you can follow Estudios Durero’s progress on Twitter, too. Tell us what you think about this initiative in the Didú 3D Relief Printing forum thread over at 3DPB.com.