Selective Sensory Art Installation (the Umbrella)

Narcisse Virgile de la Pena Diaz
born Bordeaux, France, 1807; died Menton, France, 1876
The Storm
oil on canvas
85.1 x 107.6 cm

First Iteration:

Two researchers at OCAD University – Alisha Kamran (Inclusive Design) and Jad Rabbaa (Digital Futures) – sought to create an immersive, multi-sensory experience to communicate “The Storm,” a painting by artist Narcisse Virgile de la Pena Diaz. The project was part of an ongoing effort to broaden the accessibility of art museums by offering something visually impaired patrons might find engaging.

Alisha and Jad produced a successful exhibit that centred the viewer under an umbrella and encased them in the artwork by means of a printed canopy and an audio track mixed by Jad. Their multi-sensory experience was exhibited at the Art Gallery of Ontario (AGO), where patrons received the experience with enthusiasm. One patron cried.

The original umbrella exhibit prototype, by Alisha Kamran and Jad Rabbaa. Museum goers heard ambient sounds from the painting, and stood under a stormy sky.

Co-Design:

Alisha then partnered with Amanda Austin and myself to co-ordinate a series of co-design sessions with visually impaired art lovers and sighted museum docents. Our goal was to refine the original exhibit prototype by adding functionality that was driven by user needs and preferences, directed by their open involvement in the design process.

User design suggestions provided on post-it notes during a co-design session. One suggest the addition of a smell element, another says that “it feels like I am in the painting” while another says the umbrella is “too heavy.”
A wiring diagram for an early prototype of the circuit that drove the thunder and lightning.

Second Iteration:

This second iteration of the exhibit offered force feedback through the handle, cued by Jad’s original soundtrack, that shook in tandem with the sounds of thunder. By means of a sound detection circuit, we made LED lights flash to simulate lightning in real-time reaction with the sound effects and vibration. The free standing exhibit can fold up for transportation, the umbrella is optionally removable from the stand, and it has a circuit that can sense human presence and activate on their arrival.

The umbrella was well received. Further iterations may include olfactory cues, although these are often not permitted in museums.



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