A Dazzling Design Exhibition for All the Senses Opens at the Dallas Art Museum
Descriptions like “immersive” or “sensory” have long become art jargon fixtures but the Dallas Museum of Art’s new exhibition speechless: different by design kicks the meanings up a notch. Slated to travel to Atlanta’s High Museum of Art in late April, the show had its inception more than a year ago with an invitation from DMA’s Senior Curator of Decorative Arts and Design and Interim Chief Curator Sarah Schleuning to a group of thinkers and specialists from medical, scientific and design fields to brainstorm with designers. The brief? To create a multi-sensory experience that goes beyond the typical visual exchanges between art and audiences.
“We thought about what kind of freedom and opportunities could stem from not unpacking the experience and let viewers engage and interact,” Schleuning tells Galerie about the incentive behind the two-day consortium.
The result is a harmony between the brain and orifices, two centers that control the body’s understanding of senses, according to the curator, who put emphasis to cover the body’s all five senses. On view are multidisciplinary works by such diverse talents as Ini Archibong, Matt Checkowski, Misha Kahn, Steven and William Ladd, Yuri Suzuki, and Laurie Haycock Makela.
An “octopus-shaped” exhibition design allows for viewers to follow various legs towards each work and short how-to videos in which the makers explain the best ways to engage with their works. The format lends itself for a subjective understanding of smells, sounds, touches, or visuals that prevail the overall installation.
The potential for a smell to activate distinct memories, or a texture’s resemblance to a familiar surface allows each visitor to have a totally unique individual with the exhibition. Schleuning, who has placed neutral spaces between the works for stabilization and “palate cleansing,” aims to witness people from different ages and backgrounds build their own narratives, potentially go back to the same piece for different takes or build different sequences between the half-dozen works.
“The jazz piece-like harmony between the works is both intentional and coincidental,” notes the curator, whose decision since day one was to collaborate with designers who are passionate about an exploratory journey.
Switzerland-based Archibong’s Theoracle immerses participants into a sonic shower of pure sound waves drained from discordant sounds. The multidisciplinary engagement materializes sound through three dimensional objects, such as a pool and brass pedestals with handblown glass forms, which viewers are encouraged to move and “see” generation of sounds through sculpture and light.
Celebrated Brooklyn designer Misha Kahn’s silky environment invites guests to maneuver around arachnid drapes that inflate and shrink akin to breathing organisms whose eerie placidness is equally inviting and alarming.The invitation to feel their airy transparent surfaces in fleshy pastel tones prompts unusual pleasures.Sibling duo Steven and Willam Ladd spent two weeks in Dallas to collaborate with local members of retirement communities as well as dementia patients and autistic kids for another iteration of their Scrollathon engagement program, which in this case brought in 1,700 individuals to participate in rolling of hand-dyed textile trimmings. The result is Scroll Space, a hallucinatory sensation of meticulously placed circles made out of radiant fabrics that seem too perfect to touch yet invitingly tactile across a sprawling room of variantly-colored piled scrolls.
Listing Haycock Makela, who designed the exhibition graphics and publication, as a participating artist was a no-brainer for Schleuning, who considers the graphic designer as an icon in the field and a champion of sensory awareness. Going through two brain hemorrhages, she had to re-learn signs and symbols and internalized design as a survival method, which is celebrated here with the publication’s pages pinned up across the walls for visitors to track the show’s creation process crafted through Haycock Makela’s aesthetic vision.
The curator’s exploration of senses has only just begun: “I would love to keep continuing this research with right designers and thinkers to create other similar kaleidoscopes, because there is still so much to cover!”
“Speechless: Different by Design” is open at Dallas Museum of Art through March 22, 2020. The exhibition travels to High Museum of Art on April 25, 2020 for a run through September 6, 2020.