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Touching the Art

A person holds another person's hand, guiding them to touch the surface of a rock.

Andrew Yang Touch Tour, 2016

Film still courtesy of the MCA

by Bridget Reilly O’Carroll and Anna Chiaretta Lavatelli

Blog intro

Since 2016, our Chicago Works artists have generously taken time to share their art with visitors who are blind or have low vision. Our next touch tour will be led by the artist Amanda Williams in her exhibition tomorrow, Saturday, December 16.

As a curator working in the visual arts, I sadly feel almost predisposed to privileging sight. Being in conversation with blind and visually impaired participants enabled us to challenge museum protocol by enabling the tactile to occupy the central point of artistic and intellectual contact. There were pivotal material differences in the objects on display that were much more impactful to touch, a fact that was not available to general audiences during the regular run of the exhibition.

—Joey Orr, Former MCA Mellon Curatorial Fellow and Curator of Chicago Works: Andrew Yang

When the MCA invited Andrew Yang to lead a tour for blind and low-vision visitors last year, the conversation centered around an installation that features an array of naturally occurring materials such as rocks, coral, and plant matter alongside visually deceiving objects, such as a juice box so heavily worn that it appears to be plant matter or a soda can that is returning to a more natural state (rusted metal). Visitors had the opportunity to touch the art objects while Yang described their materials, significance, and history. It was a very busy day at the museum and many sighted visitors joined in the fun and experienced the installation through Yang’s eyes, with their own hands.


Touching the Art video still

In this video, Andrew Yang guides the hand of a visitor over a large striated rock. Andrew, a well-groomed, dark-haired man with glasses and a flannel shirt, describes his experience of sharing his work. We cut to a close up of Andrew placing a very textured gourd into the hands of a visitor to feel.

When I was talking with the visually disabled and blind people about the objects and touching those objects with them, I got a very different experience of what those objects are and what their sensibility—metaphorically and literally—is because I was engaging with them so much in a visual way. So, it’s another important modality for me to get in terms of a perspective on the work.

Touching the Art video still

In this video many hands are touching various kinds of organic matter: rocks, coral, shells. Andrew Yang, the artist, guides blind visitors to touch various objects including a lightweight object that appears to be a rock, but is in fact paper.

So much of these sculptures have to do with visual play and trickery, and the fact that something looks like something but really isn’t, or is something but might look like something else. And so, for the opportunity for people to actually touch those objects gives a whole ‘nother layer but also helps subvert maybe even the ways that I want to play with the audience. They have another way that they can assert and intervene with the way that they interact with the work.

Experience Amanda Williams’s installation through her eyes tomorrow at noon.