Flora Ng Tsz-yan
Walking into the centre of the hall, visitors can pick up a book placed on the book shelf or on the coffee table, then sit on a sofa-bed and enjoy reading it for the whole afternoon. When they feel tired, they can even take off their shoes and sleep on the sofa-bed.
It is surprising that the sofa-bed visitors sleep on is actually a coffin when it combines with the book shelf and the coffee table. This is not the latest promotion of an innovative coffin but an artwork exhibited in “Charming Experience”
“I want to make a multi-sensory exhibition for them [the physically challenged],” says Ms Grace Cheng, the guest curator of the exhibition.
Traditionally, people stand in front of an artwork and see it with eyes. A new way of experience gives visitors a chance to understand what the artists want to tell through touching the artworks instead of just looking at them. This new way of experiencing art requires visitors to think out of th box and be creative
The exhibition titled “Charming Experience” emphasizes extraordinary experience of art appreciation. One of the works called “Two Art” brings out the concept of “half can be the whole” which requires visitors to work in pairs to listen to both halves of the dialogue or see both halves of the picture.
Usually, people cannot sleep in and touch the artwork in museums but “Museum Dream” lets visitors sleep in the museum legitimately with cushions of the Legislator Timothy Fok Tsun-ting in actual size.
Another artwork called “Visible Sound” is a “Qing”, a bowl-like Buddhist percussion instrument. The artist puts water in it and requires visitors to strike it to not only listen to the sound it produces, but to see the ripples on the surface. Ms Fanny Tang, a visitor, says striking this “Qing” gives her a sense of quietness.
While “Visible Sound” aims to visualize sound, “Ludwig van Beethoven’s Symphony No. 5 in C Minor, First Movement” aims to turn music tangible. A black and white touchable sculpture is placed on the wall to let the visually and hearing impaired visitors touch the sculpture and have a tangible feel of music.
Working for Art in Hospital, a non-profit charitable organisation, Ms Cheng gets in touch with many people with many people with mental or physical challenges. She thinks that museums do not welcome the disabled as the appreciation of artwork is often done through one’s vision.
She quotes the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in her note and posts it on the wall at the entrance of the exhibition. “Everyone has the right freely to participate in the cultural life of the community, to enjoy the arts. . .” This explains her attempt to serve people with different backgrounds and abilities in this exhibition.
Ms Miranda Yuen, a docent for the exhibition, says that carpet is removed especially for the exhibition to provide a guide path for the blind. Besides, braille and headphones with bilingual audio descriptions can be found for each piece of artwork. Equipment are also set at a level where visitors in wheelchairs can easily get.
Apart from the physically challenged, the mentally challenged can also get a chance to enjoy the exhibition. “I saw children enjoy [the exhibition] very much and 1 had never seen [this kind of enjoyment] in special school,” Ms Cheng recalls.
Staying in the venue every day, Ms Cheng says that children studying in special school have various reactions towards an artwork. She takes the coffin artwork as an example. She says that some children are enthusiastic over the coffin and queue up to get a trial sleep in the coffin while others are very afraid of the coffin and even cry when a child is sleeping in it.
Not everyone can understand what the curator wants to tell through this exhibition and feel the new way to experience art. “From the [Chinese] title 1 expect there will be lots of fun in the exhibition, [but] children may get disappointed. . .” says Mr Keith Ho, a visitor. He says the word “experience” in the title refers to life experience and collective memories like the display of old mailboxes.
Another visitor Ms Chan who is unwilling to be fully named says this kind of experience is not very special. After visiting the exhibition, she says she did not get any inspiration or new experience.
She further comments on the use of “red-white-blue” nylon bags in one of the artworks as a lack of creativity and sees the exhibition as the same as recent exhibitions in Hong Kong which in her opinion is “nothing special” .
The curator of the exhibition may agree with Ms Chan’s comment on lack of creativity not in terms of the artwork but of visitors’ work. There is a corner called “Make a model with your imagination” for the visitors to write something on it to show their imaginations but Ms Cheng says visitors tend to write their names on it or messages of love.
“I think these are the bad qualities of Hong Kong [people]... they waste the effort of creating a corner [for visitors] to share creations” says Ms Cheng.
Edited by Kelvin Chan Mankey
“I want to make a multi-sensory exhibition for them [the physically challenged],” says Ms Grace Cheng.
“Everyone has the right freely to participate in the cultural life of the community, to enjoy the arts…” the Universal Declaration of Human Right states.