Over the last week or so I’ve been focussed on writing draft labels for a series of touch objects for the new Medieval and Renaissance displays. If you’d like to read one or two examples click on the images reproduced here to see the text. We’ve tried to ensure that in each of the ten galleries there will be at least one original object that visitors can handle. We want the experience of visiting the displays to be a multi-sensory one where people can actively explore.
We selected the objects quite some time ago. My curatorial colleagues suggested objects that they thought would be suitable. We visited each one in the relevant store to establish a list of the strongest contenders. Then the Collection was asked to approve the use of the object, and the Conservation Department made an assessment of its suitability. I’ve illustrated this blog entry with a selection of those that have made it on the final list.
Given that the collections cover the period 300-1600 I’m sure you’ll appreciate that it hasn’t always been easy to identify appropriate objects, particularly for the earlier centuries. The ideal touch object has to be durable enough to withstand daily contact without suffering any damage. At the same time the object has to offer an interesting tactile experience otherwise there is little point in including it.
We have made things a little more difficult for ourselves by picking objects that help illustrate characteristics of the major period styles: Romanesque, Gothic, Renaissance and Mannerism. The touch object for the Romanesque style needed to fall within a date range of approximately 1000-1200 and proved particularly challenging. Nevertheless we’ve managed to identify a fantastic architectural detail from a church doorway. I’m very pleased with the selection of objects that we’ve made. Some of the objects are wonderfully large and hopefully will encourage social use and discussion.
Each object will have a standard label and a descriptive text in Braille. I have written draft descriptions and later in November we’ll be testing them with visitors to help us further refine them. A number of visually-impaired visitors have kindly agreed to give up some of their time to help. They will come to the V&A, test the touch-objects and evaluate the Braille descriptions so that we can finalise them.
There is still plenty of work to be done. The mounting of some of the objects, because of their scale or weight, will test the ingenuity of the design team. The touch objects needed to be fully integrated with the relevant subject display but without disrupting the overall aesthetic. They need to be at a height that’s suitable for all visitors. The graphic designers will have to find an elegant way of communicating to visitors that they can touch these objects. In short, there is still plenty of work to be done!
Please use the comment facility below to let us know what you think of our touch objects and draft texts. The texts are in the process of being reviewed by curatorial specialists so they represent work in progress. They will be edited by our internal editor, Lucy Trench, in due course.