Art you can touch, taste and smell: Designers explore how multi-sensory spaces can create personal experiences

by Tom Anstey | 27 Jan 2016

Peter Law, creative producer at design collective Flying Object and creator of Tate Britain’s IK Prize-winning Sensorium, has outlined how multi-sensory spaces can be used to create unique personal experiences.

Sensorium – which utilised experts in sound, taste, scent and touch, combined with lighting and theatre elements – ran until September 2015 at the Tate Britain in London as a multi-sensory experience centred around four famous artworks.

"We had an idea, about how sensory apparatus affects how you see the world,” said Law, speaking at the Museum Association’s Museum Tech show in Manchester last week. “We came up with an idea based on cross-modality combining your senses. What if a gallery space, which by choice is very visual, was played around with a bit? We played with that to give new jumping off points to experience works of art in a different way.”

The intimate experience, which allowed four people to enter at a time, stimulated the noses, hands and tongue, using edible chocolate, perfumed scents, haptic ultrasound touch and 3D soundscapes to create something unlike anything seen, heard or even tasted before, immersing visitors in those works and creating an added layer of depth.

“We had three key rules to begin with,” he continued. “We wanted to make experiences that were really easy for people to get, we wanted to get the space for them to have their own opinions and nothing that was crushingly obvious, and finally we wanted to make sure what we were doing was relevant to the paintings.”

Paired with the new multi-sensory experience, as people entered the 10sq m (107sq ft) gallery, they were provided with wristbands to record electrodermal activity.

“We wanted to give people another way to look back on their experience,” continued Law. “The wristbands we gave visitors measured their reactions essentially the same way it would with a lie detector – it’s a reliable measure of what’s going on inside.

"After leaving the Sensorium, visitors were given their graphs, which showed how their body responded to certain elements and how strongly they responded to each. This was the thing people used as a tool to talk about the experience and to compare and contrast with their friends.

“All they had was a graph telling them if they were excited but it's truism and we all love to be told things about ourselves. They walked out quite thrilled with their graph, their data, their simple little story. In this instance it was an expensive particular project, but these are the things to take away from that, those personal experiences that you can give to your visitors using a multi-sensory experience.”

Multi-sensory  Sensorium  Tate Britain  Museums Association  MA  Museums  Gallery  Haptic  Immersive 
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Peter Law, creative producer at design collective Flying Object and creator of Tate Britain’s IK Prize-winning Sensorium, has outlined how multi-sensory spaces can be used to create unique personal experiences. Sensorium – which utilised experts in sound, taste, scent and touch, combined with lighting and theatre elements – ran until September 2015 at the Tate Britain in London as a multi-sensory experience centred around four famous artworks. "We had an
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David Bomberg's In The Hold uses audio to bring the viewer into the painting, using two distinct planes of sound, reflecting geometry and subject matter / Tate Photography
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