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Take Five: Lili-Maxx Hager

Screen Shot 2018-06-15 at 14.37.40
Screen Shot 2018-06-15 at 14.37.40
Willem Kalf, Still Life with Drinking Horn, 1653 (Detail)
Written by
Published date
15 June 2018

As our students prepare for the opening of Degree Show Two: Design on 20 June, we take a closer look at their final projects and the inspirations behind them.

BA Culture, Criticism and Curation student Lili-Maxx Hager’s final project ARTXSENSE is an app that reevaluates the fundamental human action of seeing. It offers equal, emotional, creative and knowledgeable experience of museums and galleries — replacing ideas of “ability” and “disability” with “aesthetic ability”. ARTXSENSE offers an audio guide which encourages a synesthetic experience of the artworks on view. It uses emotional engagement, analogy and creative context to facilitate new forms of participation, devaluing the prevalent understanding of sight as the primary method of perceiving art. Here she talks us through the five key themes which she has tackled in her conception of ARTXSENSE.

Titian, The Death of Actaeon, c. 1559, Image from braille descriptive folder, The National Gallery, London

1. Accommodation vs Inclusion

Belonging, comfort and purpose — would you enjoy an environment where those were missing? Accommodation and inclusion are often cited as synonyms but in fact hold very different meanings. ARTXSENSE addresses the ways in which members of society are accommodated for, but not directly included — for example, the ways minority groups may receive inferior experiences indicates an accommodation for, but not an inclusion within an environment. Placing great emphasis on differentiating between these terms, ARTXSENSE analyses the institutions that use them as barriers of ease. It therefore aims to break down boundaries of accessibility, bringing in ideas of belonging and comfort. It is no longer a case of being “able” to do something but in fact the feelings individuals get when they do it.

When speaking about disability it is easy to replace inclusion with accommodation, it is easy to provide access without comfort or entry without understanding or a sense of place. ARTXSENSE is grounded in disability theory research, specifically based on a social model which aims to break down boundaries between those who are considered different within society. It aims to differentiate between accommodation and inclusion by negating the idea that the visually impaired require something “extra” in order to navigate museums. So, it redefines what experience means — not solely for the visually impaired but for all.

Titian, The Death of Actaeon, c. 1559 (Detail)

2. Synesthetic Experiences

ARTXSENSE reexamines the common perception of vision as the most dominant sense in experiencing the world. It emphasises the importance of synesthetic experience, placing understanding at the forefront of experience and discrediting society’s emphasis on sight. Narrated by artists and practitioners, instead of computerised voices, the audio guide adds personality and pushes synesthetic experience to a relatable level.

In development, I focused on analysing the reasons why people attend museums, grouping them into three main categories: knowledgeable experiences, emotional experiences and creative experiences. ARTXSENSE utilises synesthetic experience, conveying these three elements through the use of other senses that trigger common memories. This gives more insight into a work of art than would ever be possible solely through eyesight. By means of analogy, performance, smells, touch and taste evoke memories, making artworks more accessible to the blind and better understood by the sighted.

Willem Kalf, Still Life with Drinking Horn, 1653, Image from braille descriptive folder from The National Gallery, London

3. Value Of Experience

During this project, I conducted a lot of research on the different forms of artistic experience and ways of judging the value of these experiences. Placing the blind and visually impaired at the heart of the project, I analysed linguistic experience in opposition to visual experiences of works of art. Here, I aimed to assess what was missing when these were separated. The outcome indicated that text-based experience of artworks (as those obtained by the blind) prompted knowledgeable insights, whereas visual experience evoked more emotional and creative responses. This result was vital to the development of ARTXSENSE, as it proved that inclusion was only possible through the creation of equal experience opportunities. The acknowledgement of their value is vital in determining levels of inclusion and understanding for the sighted and visually impaired alike.

Willem Kalf, Still Life with Drinking Horn, 1653 (Detail)

4. Aesthetic Ability

ARTXSENSE aims to combat the simplified idea of “ability”, and its counterpart “disability”. Instead, it replaces them with “aesthetic ability” in arts and cultural institutions, focusing on the belief that a person’s ability is secondary to their aesthetic understanding. The aesthetic sensibility of those who are blind and visually impaired is often more similar to those who are sighted, than one might commonly think.

With this mind, explanations and audio guides should not be created in relation to a person’s disability, but rather heir ability — their aims and goals of what they want to learn and achieve. ARTXSENSE aims to obliterate judgements that frame and dictate notions of disability, putting the aesthetic at the forefront of experience within the arts. This reinforces inclusion and belonging within society and its environment. Personal aesthetic ability extends beyond ideas of perspective, which are currently heavily driven by sight. ARTXSENSE focuses on intellectual ability, as well as a person’s ambitions of understanding. To erase the stigma surrounding disability and the exclusion the term often implies, we need to find new ways of classifying goals of learning. ARTXSENSE breaks aesthetic ability down into classifications — emotion, knowledge, the creative and the performative — placing freedom of choice at the heart of the audio guide.

Paolo Veronese, The Family of Darius before Alexander, 1565-7, Image from braille descriptive folder from The National Gallery, London

5. Emotion

Imagine trying to understand something without emotional attachment, connection or investment. It can be surprising how much emotion plays a role in our daily endeavours. Across its development, emotion has remained at the core of ARTXSENSE. As regular audio guides fail to address emotion, it became increasingly important in my project. How can you convey the effects of the visual world without using emotion?

From speaking to the blind and visually impaired, it became clear that the lack of emotion often created barriers of understanding in museum and gallery environments. So, it was clear that emotional understanding was pivotal, and placing it at the heart of the audio guide was key to conveying an artwork to someone unable to see. This also allowed the project to move into a more personalised approach, away from generalised, factual information. Instead, I asked artists to narrate — navigating and orienting the space, providing insight with identity, personality and charm.