Technology helps visually impaired people to enjoy art

Europe, March 26 2011

UK, Mar 26: THE Long Gallery at Nottingham Castle is crowded with fine art – but how do you make it appeal to visitors who can’t see the exhibits?

This was the task for Artfully Sighted, a group of people with a range of visual impairments who are all involved with the Nottinghamshire Royal Society for the Blind (NRSB).

The result is Blockwerk Orchestra, an installation which enables visitors to hear music and sound effects depending on which pictures they are near to in the gallery.

Cameras in the ceiling have been programmed to recognise shapes printed on blocks carried around by visitors – triggering the sounds at appropriate locations.

NRSB service user Robert Allcock hopes it will help visually-impaired people to enjoy the gallery more.

“I feel very pleased with what we’ve done,” he said. “For people that can’t see at all it gives them an idea of what they are listening for. Although they might not be able to see it, they will be able to remember the sound and everything that goes with it all.”

Mr Allcock, who is 45 and from Mapperley, was a motor mechanic but had to stop working when he was 42 because his eyesight had deteriorated.

He has collected art for most of his life, but now has tunnel vision, making it difficult for him to view it.

” I have to stand further back to see the pictures,” he explained. “I have to walk back and forward to see the detail.”

His favourite painting in the Long Gallery is the Goose Fair, by Arthur Spooner.

Moving near to the painting triggers real sounds recorded at the fair to play through speakers.

Artfully Sighted commissioned digital artist Noel Murphy and musician and sonic artist Tom Hill to lead them in the design and production of the installation.

Other sound effects include traffic noises from cars, fireplace sounds and the squawking of seagulls.

One of the blocks triggers sound effects and the rest play notes from different instruments in an orchestra.

Different notes play according to where the blocks are situated in the room, and when two blocks are moved near each other they trigger a short burst of music.

Launching the installation at Nottingham Castle, Gemma Latimer, arts and crafts officer for the NRSB, said: “It’s been really refreshing to see the service users grow throughout the project and many have changed their perceptions of what art can be.

“It’s hugely important that we work in collaboration with places like Nottingham Castle, to increase accessibility and make art available to everybody, whether they are visually impaired, in a wheelchair or fully sighted.”

NRSB volunteer Marianne Atkinson added: “We feel that Noel and Tom have created something really innovative that will encourage people with or without a visual impairment to explore their senses in a new way.”


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