Guest Post: Works of art reimagined by Francine Kopun The Toronto Star

Works of art reimagined

OCAD University students rework a selection of AGO paintings into hands-on art the visually impaired can appreciate

 

Francine Kopun

The Toronto Star, Jan. 4, 2019

 

Peter Coppin remembers the discussion with a visually impaired student that helped him understand how much can be misunderstood when a person has to depend on words to understand what someone else can see.

 

They were talking about Italy and the student knew that Italy is shaped like a boot. But when Coppin described it as a boot with a high heel like the Three Muskateers would wear, the student laughed out loud. He had been envisioning Italy as an entirely different kind of boot shape and the idea of Italy as a Muskateer boot was comical to him.

 

It’s these chasms in understanding that Coppin and the Art Gallery of Ontario are trying to bridge with a program that brings multisensory projects, based on works of visual art, to AGO museum tours for people in the blind and low vision community.

 

While in the past museums have relied heavily on audio recordings and guides to bridge that gap, new practices are being brought on board, including multisensory aids designed by graduate students at OCAD University.

 

“Visuals are dominant in our culture. If you are a part of society and you don’t have access to visual items, then you don’t have access to a lot of  stuff about the culture that people who have vision have access to,” says Coppin, associate professor of the inclusive design graduate program and director of the perceptual artifacts lab at OCAD University.

 

In Coppin’s graduate class, students select a work of art at the AGO to interpret for people living with vision loss.

 

This year – the second year of the program – the works included four paintings: Tom Thomson’s The West Wind, Otto Dix’s Portrait of Dr. Heinrich Stadelmann; La Demoiselle de magasin by James Tissot and Jar of Apricots by Jean-Siméon Chardin.

 

In a way, it’s about getting back to the roots of what museums used to be, said Melissa Smith, co-ordinator of the gallery guide, adult education officer and access to art programs for the AGO.

 

Early museums began as private collections, typically belonging to the wealthy, who would share art and artifacts they had purchased or collected on their travels. They were displayed in “wonder rooms.” People were allowed to touch the items as part of the experience.

 

The AGO already offers multisensory tours for people living with vision loss, which include some works that can be touched – including the museum’s large Rodin sculptures – under supervision, but providing 3-D support for works of visual arts offers the possibility of evoking more than just the sense of touch.

 

For months, Coppin’s students grappled with the idea of how to render the terrifying look on Dr. Stadelmann’s face into a tactile experience and how to communicate the cold of the water in The West Wind.

 

“We were totally drawn to this portrait; the eerie atmosphere,” said student Shannon Kupfer, speaking of the Dix portrait. “I was dying to interpret it.”

 

Dix layered paint on the doctor’s eyes – they appear to bulge. He seems haunted. His hands are in fists by his sides. Kupfer and her partner, Tyson Moll, wanted viewers to feel that tension, and also feel the deep wrinkles in his face.

 

They made a 3-D replica of the doctor’s head in polymer clay that felt cold and a bit yielding, but still firm to the touch. The eyes bulge like they do in the painting.

 

They sewed hair onto his head in little batches, to mimic the strokes of the paintbrush in the painting. They made the body boxy and rigid, to communicate the physical tension in the painting. They gave him a rigid collar, backed by cardboard. His fists were made of polymer clay coated in silicone.

 

They also made it out of products that were easy to care for – the clothes are fastened with Velcro to make it easier for curators to remove them and wash them if necessary.

 

They recorded an audio component – a fluent German speaker reading a passage from one of Dr. Stadelmann’s writings, concerning avant-garde art in relation to what was then considered psychiatric wisdom. They included the hissing noise that used to accompany recordings played on records.

 

“It’s not just engaging for the low-sight community, it’s engaging for everyone. It’s such a cool way to get kids – or anyone – more engaged with art,” Kupfer said.

 

The problem of communicating the coldness of the water in Tom Thomson’s piece was solved more simply, with a bag of blue slime. To convey the feeling of wind, the students invested in a $20 miniature fan from Amazon.com.

 

“When you stand in front of this painting you can feel the strong wind because of the shape of the tree and the waves on the lake,” said student Norbert Zhao.

 

John Rae, who lost his eyesight in his 20s and is now blind, has been on the AGO multisensory tours and experienced the works made by this year’s OCAD students. While he liked the Otto Dix sculpture, some things didn’t communicate as planned. For example, without knowing anything about the painting, when Rae touched the sculpture, he thought the doctor was a boxer wearing gloves, because of the way the hands felt. “That comes from me as a sports fan,” said Rae, a retired public servant and a board member of the Alliance for Equality of Blind Canadians.

 

Rae liked the multisensory adaptation of Jar of Apricots, by students Nikkie To and Grace Mendez. The painting is a still life that includes a jar of apricots, a glass of wine, bread and a cup of tea.

 

Their model included dried apricots for tasting, jarred scents including a cork soaked in wine and apricot jam with added artificial apricot scent; 3-D printed objects including a tea cup and wine glass to handle, background music from the period and others sounds – touching the wine glass triggered the sound of a liquid being poured.

 

While Rae believes the multisensory aids provide another tool, he thinks museums in general need to consider making more objects available for handling by the blind and vision impaired. He cited as an example ancient pottery – while a museum may have perfect examples on display, it may also have imperfect examples in storage. What would be the harm, asks Rae, in making those available to people with limited eyesight, especially since the tours happen infrequently, involve about six to 12 items, and small numbers of people?

 

“One can learn a fair amount from the expertise that the people who run these tours bring to the table, but there is no substitute for being able to touch,” Rae said.

 

The challenge at the AGO, Smith said, is that in an art gallery the works tend to be flat and one-of-a-kind.

 

“Our conservators and curators do their utmost to ensure the objects, like sculptures, which make the most interesting objects to touch, are cared for and exhibited to support this program,” Smith said.

 

Ian White, president of a local Toronto chapter of the Canadian Council of the Blind called the CCB Toronto Visionaries, said that while AGO tour leaders excel at describing art in a way that triggers the imagination, the multisensory tours are evocative.

 

“It starts a conversation about the piece, about the artist, about the history,” White said.

 

“It really allows people to engage with works that are part of our collective culture.”

 

 

Guest Post: NNELS/SDPP-D Federal Grant Updates, November 14, 2018

SDPP-D Federal Grant Updates – November 2018

 

Wednesday, November 14, 2018

 

*Note: This is a text version of the Federal Grant Updates page on the NNELS website, which can be accessed by activating this link.  We thank CCB staff and all the other partners who worked on this project, as well as those who will work on the next stage.  #AccessibilityMatters.

 

Press Release from Employment and Social Development Canada: /Government

funds library network service expansion to make more published works

available in formats accessible for Canadians with print disabilities

 

*

 

From January to June 2018, NNELS worked on a series of special projects to enhance the production and availability of accessible-format material in Canada. The project was funded in large part by a grant from the Government of Canada’s Social Development Partnerships Program – Disability Component (SDPP-D). In September 2018, the BC Libraries Cooperative received an additional $1 million to carry out a series of new special projects to build on the momentum created from the previous grant work. New projects focus on three main areas: accessible publishing, accessible reading, and braille availability.

 

Summaries of these projects follow, and this page will be updated as the projects are carried out. For answers to your questions please write to

support@nnels.ca

 

 

  1. Accessible Publishing

 

NNELS continues to work with partners to support publishers in creating born accessible material.

 

 

  1. a) Accessible Publishing Summit

 

This invitation-only summit will be held in Toronto on January 28th and 29th, 2019, and will include stakeholders in the ebook production, distribution, and reading chain. We will create and distribute a set of best practices for accessible EPUB relevant to  communities along that chain; related documentation will be publicly available online. We are working with Laura Brady <https://twitter.com/LauraB7&gt; to organize this event.

 

 

  1. b) Accessible Publishing Workshops

 

In February, Lisa Snider of Access Changes Everything will host ten, two-day accessible publishing workshops across Canada. We have invited publishers and publishers’ associations to contact us if they would like to host a workshop in their city. The two-day workshops will allow the first day to offer a theoretical grounding for hands-on, practical experience on the second day.

 

 

  1. c) EPUB Accessibility Reports/Audits

 

We will be working with Lisa Snider, Farrah Little, and our stellar team of accessibility testers to create accessibility reports for 60 EPUB files from 30 Canadian publishers. In the first week of November, we sent an invitation to publishers and have received a great response, especially from Ontario publishers. We hope to have all 60 files by December 1st. Publishers can sign up here.

 

 

  1. d) DAISY Consortium Partnership

 

We are funding the DAISY Consortium to develop and enhance their open-source, user-friendly version of the Ace by DAISY. To date, Ace by DAISY has been a command-line tool, but the new release has a graphical user interface. DAISY is also preparing the Accessible Publishing Knowledge Base

<http://kb.daisy.org/publishing/&gt; and EPUBTest.org

<https://epubtest.org/&gt; website for language localization,

And translating both Ace by DAISY and EPUBTest.org into French.

 

On November 6th, we were invited by DAISY to a conference call to review their latest version of a test book used at EPUBtest.org to test different reading applications. One of our accessibility testers was able to attend and wrote afterward, “It was so much fun to just talk our lingo for an hour with them. I learned a lot, too. I’m able to present more refined recommendations to cover images in my reports now, and I’ve finally figured out how page navigation is supposed to work! I couldn’t believe it when people started signing off. I almost said, “Hey wait a minute, this was supposed to last an hour,” then I checked the time and was astonished to see that it indeed had.”

 

DAISY is actively including our team in their work: we are learning so much from them and so grateful for this opportunity!

 

  1. e) Plugins for Publishers

 

Publishers have asked for plugins they can use with their ebook editing software to automate repetitive tasks and improve accessibility. We posted an RFP for a plugin developer which closed on November 2nd, and we are working on next steps.

 

  1. Accessible Reading

 

 

  1. a) Purchasing

 

We have approached eBOUND to inquire about purchasing titles published since our last round of funding, and to invite participation from publishers who did not work with us in the spring. We also sent an invitation through Canadian publishers’ associations to purchase their material directly from them or through their distributors.

 

We have agreements in place with two major digital audiobook vendors to purchase jointly with CELA/CNIB. Purchasing is beginning mid-November. We have budgeted a total of $100,000 for new content.

 

 

  1. b) Testing Library Reading Apps

 

Our team of accessibility testers are exploring the accessibility of library reading applications, with input from DAISY and CELA. The purpose of this project is to give vendors specific feedback about their reading apps so that audiobooks and accessible ebooks are available to all readers through those platforms. The team is currently testing the OverDrive app on a variety of platforms. NNELS will share the results with the vendors and the Canadian public library community.

 

  1. c) Partnership with Camp Bowen Society for the Visually Impaired

 

We are thrilled to continue working with the Camp Bowen Society for the Visually Impaired <https://campbowen.ca/&gt; to further develop the beta version of their Production Tool, a tool that automates and streamlines the EPUB remediation process. As part of this process, Camp Bowen will create 18 accessible-format titles for the NNELS repository.

 

 

  1. d) National Requests

 

We are once again accepting nation-wide requests to produce books that are not currently available in accessible formats. A link to submit requests will be distributed and posted here soon.

 

 

 

  1. Braille Availability

 

 

  1. a) Print-Braille Childrens’ Books

 

In partnership with the Vision Impaired Resource Network (VIRN) in Manitoba, we are producing 5 titles in French to be distributed through every provincial and territorial Public Library Authority. Special thank you to staff at BAnQ for helping us select titles! This project builds on previous work done with VIRN to expand the Canadian print-braille collection.

 

 

  1. b) Hardcopy and Electronic Braille Pilot Project

 

Our Saskatchewan-based Braille Production Coordinator, Riane LaPaire, is coordinating the production of 50 hardcopy and 50 electronic braille titles for distribution through NNELS and Canadian public libraries. This pilot project will inform future decisions on choosing braille producers, braille quality, and distribution methods. This project is based on recommendations from the “Improving Braille Availability in Canadian Public Library.