Theory and Research Center

Art Beyond Sight:

Multi-modal Approaches to Learning

October 16 - 18, 2009

Organized by

Art Beyond Sight   The Metropolitan Museum of Art

Locations: The Metropolitan Museum of Art , Museum of Modern Art, and Dahesh Museum of Art



Program Outline

Convenors: Art Beyond Sight; Rebecca McGinnis, The Metropolitan Museum of Art; Marie Clapot, Art Beyond Sight

Location: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Uris Center for Education, Entrance on Fifth Avenue at 81st Street

Friday, October 16, 2009

9:00 – 10:00

10:00 – 10:15

10:15 – 12:10

12:10 – 12:20    Remarks

12:20 – 1:50     Lunch break (on your own)

3:30 – 4:00    Coffee break

4:00 – 5:30     Concurrent sessions

6:30 – 8:30

Join us for complimentary light refreshments and wine to celebrate the conference. No reservations required.

The exhibition has been curated by Daniel Mason.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

9:00 – 10:00

10:00 – 10:15   Welcome (Lecture Hall)

10:15 –12:15

12:15 – 1:45   Lunch break (on your own)

1:45 – 3:30     Concurrent sessions

3:30 – 4:00     Break

4:00 – 5:30     Concurrent sessions

Abstracts for plenary sessions

Friday      10:15 – 12:10 

The senses and disability in context: Perspectives from museums, art history, anthropology, and philosophy

Chair: Tim Barringer, Paul Mellon Professor, Department of History of Art, Yale University

The Invisible Museum: An Archaeology of the Senses
Constance Classen, Concordia University (Canada)
Museums are pre-eminently visual spaces, where every sense but sight is kept firmly in check. Even artefacts such as musical instruments, which cry out for an attentive ear or a gentle hand, are kept silent and untouchable. While this hypervisual state of affairs appears incontrovertible, the archaeology of the senses reveals another scenario: visitors to the early museums of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries regularly touched, listened to and even smelled exhibits. Exploring the history of the “invisible” museum of touch, hearing and smell discloses the significance once attached to the senses and suggests why the modern museum was so definitively “purified” of its earlier sensuality.

From Object Lessons to Sentient Subjects: Curating and Displaying Ethnographic Artifacts Now
David Howes, Concordia University (Canada)
Time was ethnographic artifacts were arranged in glass boxes in illustration of some Western-inspired typology. The Pitt Rivers Museum in Oxford presents a classic example of this display strategy. In recent years, certain ethnographic artifacts have come to be treated as sentient subjects in accordance with the beliefs of their indigenous creators. These artifacts have their senses catered to by curators and/or ritual specialists and their presentation is designed to make a distinct impression on the museum visitor. What can this history of the disabling/enabling of the senses of ethnographic artifacts tell us about disability in the museum?

Re-Presenting Disability: activism and agency in the museum
Richard Sandell, Leicester University (UK)
How do visitors respond to and engage with interpretive interventions in museums and galleries that are purposefully fashioned to mitigate, complicate or subvert prevalent stereotypical understandings of disabled people? What ethical dilemmas arise for practitioners engaged in this work? This presentation addresses these questions through focusing on a recent, action research project - Rethinking Disability Representation - carried out in the UK between 2006 and 2009. The project – a collaboration between museums and disabled activists, artists and cultural practitioners – was designed to both open up alternative ways of seeing, thinking and talking about disability and to frame the ways in which visitors might engage in contemporary debates related to disability rights

First-Hand Knowledge: Some reflections on Blind Identity
Georgina Kleege, University of California, Berkeley
In this talk I will offer some reflections on blind identity and its impact on museum access programs for people who are blind and visually impaired.  Do details about the degree of impairment or age of onset actually aid or distract from the true mission of these programs?

Discussant: Marcus Weisen, Museums and Galleries without Barriers (UK, France)

Saturday        10:15 –12:15

The science of the senses: Psychology and neuroscience

Chair: Lotfi Merabet, Harvard Medical School

Introduction: Why neuroscience matters
Lotfi Merabet, Harvard Medical School
Just as art reflects how we perceive the world and the mind's creativity, neuroscience is the study of how we perceive the world and how the brain creates the mind. Through multidisciplinary investigative approaches, studying the relationship between brain and behavior gives us insight into new was of expressing creativity, interacting with the world around us, and understanding who we are.

Semantics of the senses
Barbara Tversky, Department of Human Development, Teachers College, Columbia University
The mind is entered and exited through the senses and through the actions of the body. Space, which is expressed and experienced through all the senses and the body, can convey both spatial and abstract meanings. For example, proximity in space is used to convey proximity on abstract dimensions. A variety of examples, especially from diagrams and gesture, will illustrate how the senses and the body participate in communication and understanding.

Wayfinding with visual impairment
Gordon Legge, University of Minnesota
Independent mobility is an important prerequisite for full participation in modern society. It figures in employment, education, commerce, social interaction, and recreation. Reduced mobility and associated social isolation are among the most severe consequences of vision loss. I will discuss laboratory studies dealing with the impact of low vision and blindness on learning the layout of indoor environments, and the potential benefits of adaptive technology. I will also discuss my related research on the design of visually accessible spaces. What attributes of environments--including lighting, surface color and texture, and object form--affect the visibility of obstacles and other features? How can architects and interior designers arrange spaces to be more visually accessible?

Learning to see: A scientific and humanitarian approach
Pawan Sinha, Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences, MIT
We open our eyes and see a world that makes sense. Parsing the complex visual array into meaningful objects comes so naturally to us that we often do not think of just how amazing an accomplishment this is. Indeed, no computer system even comes close to this level of proficiency. How do we acquire these impressive visual skills? In order to study this process experimentally, we have recently launched Project Prakash a synergistic humanitarian and scientific initiative that helps provide sight to children with treatable congenital blindness, and characterizes their subsequent visual development.
The effort has begun providing insights into the early stages of learning to see, while directly improving the lives of many blind children.

Studying the brain to learn about the mind
Alvaro Pascual-Leone, Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center and Harvard Medical School
Who painted that picture, made that sculpture, composed that music, enjoyed the arts? Most of us, when we describe such experiences, have a sense of agency and the answer tends to be ‘me’. Most of us do not say ‘my brain’, but simply ‘me’ and we mean that ‘me’ is somehow distinct from the brain as an organ inside a bony skull in our heads. Art is a product of our minds and is enjoyed with our minds. However, the mind is the product of the brain's activities, a creation of the working brain. We have powerful tools to study the working brain and can thus start asking what such research can teach us about the mind. We also have tools to modulate and interfere with brain activity and when we do so, we can alter the mind of our subjects, thus discovering the dynamic and changing nature of the human mind. As the brain continues to change through development, experience and interacting with the surrounding world, so to does the mind. Art is the product of the mind and thus the brain, and art also changes our minds and thus changes our brains.

Access programs at The Metropolitan Museum of Art are made possible by MetLife Foundation.

Access programs are also made possible by the generous support of the Filomen M. D’Agostino Foundation.

Additional support has been provided by The Ceil & Michael E. Pulitzer Foundation, Inc.; the Renate, Hans & Maria Hofmann Trust; the Allene Reuss Memorial Trust; The Murray G. and Beatrice H. Sherman Charitable Trust; the Stella and Charles Guttman Foundation, Inc.; and Jane B. Wachsler.

Art Beyond Sight and this conference are supported in part by the New York State Council on the Arts and the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs.

Special thanks to Paula Terry and the National Endowment for the Arts Office of AccessAbility and to Travelers Insurance and Travelers Foundation.

Thanks to the Manhattan Jewish Community Center for generously hosting the Art Beyond Sight conference reception and to Café 76 for providing catering for this event.

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