Today we grapple with an existential question for all heritage explorers, the question of which parts of our body absorb the contents of a visit? Is it through our eyes? And our hands, they remain in our pockets, our ears are clogged and we have a gas mask on our face?! Is an exhibition made ​​only to be seen? In your opinion, how many of our senses are titillated during a visit? Come on, we'll sort it out...
Here's what I would say if I thought there was only one sense …
The sight! That's obvious. Let's see the etymology of the word "expose", from the Latin expono, meaning display, offer to view.
Look at the early history of museums, they were made and designed to be seen. This is the nature of an exhibition. Cabinet of curiosities, private collections and treasures of the churches that are the basis of our current museum, all that was shown, exhibited by collectors.
Each sense has been put in its place: the sight at the museum and in the architecture, the taste at the restaurant, the hearing at the concert, the touch...touch your butt! Stop damaging my best works with your greasy hands!
Okay, I admit it's great to make heritage more accessible by other senses which also assist the handicapped. But it is only a replacement. I acknowledge that adding Audiovisual can enrich a visit, but it is not the heart of an exhibition. We are not at Disneyland! Learning to read a work by looking, having a critical eye, that's the most important thing. Forget the gadgets and get back to basics. Open our eyes!
Here's what I would say if I thought there were five senses...
My poor old... If you visit only with the eyes, you do not know what you're missing.
You mean History? So let's do it seriously : the Musaeum, including the one of Alexandria that dates back 2300 years, are the places that gave their name and the idea to current ​​museums. Well, just imagine that they were not done to "show" collections, but to gather all the knowledge of mankind! And to honor the Muses. What muses? All of them!
And knowledge, do you know how to catch it? Guys like Epicurus, 2400 years ago, had already realized that all knowledge comes to us from sensory experience of the world around us. By the eyes, the ears, the skin, the nose and the tongue!
And what is this narrow view of heritage that you have? Do you think there are only the fine arts and monuments? What about gastronomy? And oral testimony? And practice? And perfumes? And music? And movies? This is not heritage? Well, yes they are! And the mission of a museum is to make them accessible.
And finally...! Why should the blind only be entitled to an incomplete exhibition? The museum must do everything to eradicate the inequalities between visitors. An exhibition, if it is designed for all the senses, it is for everyone, without distinction.
Here's what I really think...
That both sides are missing the point!
As I was myself, before I'd start to question myself, because it is always necessary to question and doubt one's convictions. I learned that the human being had not one, not two, not three, not four or five... or six... or seven or eight... but nine senses! (At least)
When we visit, they are all titillated. But the two that are most essential to the activity of the visit remain unknown to the general public. They are:
_ Equilibrioception: sense which allows us to keep the balance and to know whether one is lying, upright or upside down, thanks to a vestibular contraption that is located in our inner ear.
_Proprioception: allowing us to know where all the parts of our body are, without the need to use our other senses. Try, close your eyes and touch your fingers feet or your nose...
These two senses matter the most because they allow us to cognizant in space. And basically, what is an exhibition visit or a heritage visit? It is a walk through a three dimensional where ideas and knowledge come to us by our understanding of space. It is the spatial arrangement of the content and the movement of our body in it that allow us to interpret an exhibition, and allow us to visit eyes closed even if it is designed for.
And that's what makes the show unique compared to other media.
So, get moving!
The last two senses can also be used to create content in an exhibition:
_ Thermoception: the sense of heat and cold. This can be useful in an immersive exhibition, for example about the North Pole or the desert.
_ Nociception: Ah! My favorite! The sense of pain. Hmmmm! You never dreamed to really understand what Jesus endured in the paintings which represent the Flagellation? To finally make a real exhibition on sadomasochism? To be spanked by the museum guardian? No? Uh, neither do I, what do you think...
To go further:
An excellent video of popular science:
Guido is in: Jacques Linard, The five senses and the four elements, oil on canvas, 1627, Paris, Musée du Louvre © RMN (Musée du Louvre) / Daniel Arnaudet

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