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Total treat for the senses

TOUCHING, HEARING AND SMELLING AT DESIGN BEYOND VISION SHOW

- Katherine roth

THIS IS VERY DIFFERENT FROM OTHER SHOWS BECAUSE IT’S ABOUT EXPERIENCE. THERE ARE A LOT OF EXPERIENCE­S FOR PEOPLE TO TRY. ALMOST EVERY WORK HERE ENGAGES MULTIPLE SENSES. — ANDREA LIPPS,

ASSISTANT CURATOR OF CONTEMPORA­RY DESIGN AT THE COOPER HEWITT

NEW YORK • Cutting-edge technologi­es and designs can make daily life better, particular­ly for those with sensory disabiliti­es, a new exhibit in New York demonstrat­es. The Senses: Design Beyond Vision features works that invite visitors to touch, hear and smell — often in combinatio­n (while looking good, too). It’s on view at the Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonia­n Design Museum through Oct. 28.

Some of the pieces are already available to consumers, while others are prototypes offering glimpses of what may be to come. The designers hope “to stimulate our sensory responses to solve problems of access and enrich our interactio­ns with the world,” says museum director Caroline Baumann.

The family-friendly exhibit includes dozens of touchable works (customdesi­gned geranium and sandalwood hand sanitizer is provided throughout). And in keeping with the exhibit’s focus on accessibil­ity “beyond vision,” many of its labels are in braille and feature audio descriptio­ns.

“This is very different from other shows because it’s about experience. There are a lot of experience­s for people to try,” says Andrea Lipps, assistant curator of contempora­ry design at the Cooper Hewitt, who organized the show with Ellen Lupton, senior curator of contempora­ry design. “Almost every work here engages multiple senses.”

The show opens with a large, curvaceous, furry wall embedded with sensors that play music when it’s touched. Tactile Orchestra, created by Studio Roos Meerman and KunstLAB Arnhem, is designed so that one touch prompts a recording of a string instrument playing, and multiple touches result in the playing of the entire musical compositio­n.

“Everyone who sees the wall wants to pet it, and the more people who stroke the wall, the more instrument­s join in,” Lipps says. “It’s tactile and audio and visual.”

Across the room, Dialect for a New Era features six translucen­t pillars, each with a line of text describing an emotional state. Visitors can push a button on each pillar, releasing a scent meant to forge connection­s between language and smell. The piece is a collaborat­ive work by Frederik Duerinck and Marcel Van Brakel, Polymorf and IFF, along with linguist Asifa Majid and perfumer Laurent Le Guernec.

Other attraction­s include a commission­ed work by Man Made Music called Alarm Fatigue. Its design aims to improve the sonic environmen­t of hospitals, where the frequent beeping and pinging of medical equipment can be problemati­c for patients and caregivers alike.

There’s a 3D map of the Smithsonia­n Museum in Washington that talks when touched (by Touch Graphics) and a Dot Watch, a braille smartwatch.

Vibeat wearable speakers are designed to convert sound into vibrations that can be felt on the skin. Elsewhere, digital animation translates bird chirps into bursts of colour and motion.

Another section of the exhibit features 3D printed vessels made from curry or coffee grounds that smell, well, like curry or coffee (by architects Ronald Rael and Virginia San Fratello).

A work called Seated Catalog of Feelings, by Sosolimite­d, sends patterns of vibrations through the seat and back of a chair to evoke odd sensations like “falling backward into a tub of Jello” or “getting stroked by an electric toothbrush.” Snow Storm, a commission­ed work by Christophe­r Brosius, features balls of felted wool suspended from above, each infused with a scent meant to evoke winter.

“It’s fun, but it’s also about smell in our living spaces. Wool holds smell much more than skin,” Lipps explains. “So spraying perfume on a sweater will make the smell last longer than if you spray it on your skin.”

And for those struggling with loss of appetite, Ode is a “personal scent player” that diffuses food smells into a room at mealtime.

“When we munch on a crunchy pretzel and or swallow a creamy blob of ice cream, we indulge in the multi-sensory allure of eating. Although serving food is off-limits in a museum, the exhibition shows how package designers use colour and texture to prime our appetite,” says Lupton.

Jinhyun Jeon’s Sensory Spoons, edged with bumps or rippled like waves to stimulate the mouth, highlights the relationsh­ip between taste and touch, Lupton says.

Colourful buttons, handles and grab bars promote safety by helping those features stand out. As with many of the works in the show, they combine style and function and are intended to appeal to those with and without sensory disabiliti­es.

 ?? PHOTOS: SCOTT RUDD / THE ASSOCIATED PRESS ?? Feather Fountain, by artist Daniel Wurtzel, is a blend of style and function.
PHOTOS: SCOTT RUDD / THE ASSOCIATED PRESS Feather Fountain, by artist Daniel Wurtzel, is a blend of style and function.
 ??  ?? Snow Storm features scent-infused balls.
Snow Storm features scent-infused balls.

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