Two hands feel the tactile surface of an artwork. ©Mikli Diffusion France 2019. Photos: Luc Marciano

Please do touch

It is long understood that the price we pay for being in the presence of extraordinary art and artefacts is the distance we must keep from them. For the protection of precious and fragile artworks, security guards and polite notices instruct visitors not to touch. It’s entirely understandable, but this distance also has the power to create isolation and this is precisely why the work of The Alain Mikli eyewear brand is so important.

Since 2003, Alain Mikli (now part of the distinguished Luxottica Group) has been breaking down barriers to art for the blind and visually impaired through the creation of tactile interpretations of artworks for all to enjoy. His first tactile exhibition of aerial images captured by the globally renowned French photographer, Yann Arthus Bertrand was such a success that it exhibited in 14 countries, proving that there was – and continues to be – a real desire to experience art and photography beyond the visual.

Since then, numerous further artworks have been adapted and exhibitions held, but most notable is the work in partnership with the Musée Du Quai Branly – Jacques Chirac, a Parisian museum which specialises in the arts and civilisation of Africa, Asia, Oceania, and the Americas and describes itself as “a place for the discovery of others, tolerance and dialogue”. Accessibility is at the heart of the museum and it became the natural residence for some of Alain Mikli’s most ambitious projects, creating audio-tactile experiences and replicating complex artworks using ground-breaking relief-printing technologies. Both the museum and the eyewear brand share a desire to discover new ways of engaging visually impaired visitors with art by means of cutting-edge technologies.

A brightly coloured and highly textured artwork, displayed on a plinth with descriptive text and headphones for an audio experience.
Each reproduction is accompanied by descriptive text and an audio experience for all to enjoy. ©Mikli Diffusion France 2019. Photos: Luc Marciano

For the 20th anniversary of Musée Du Quai Branly acquisitions – Jacques Chirac, Alain Mikli is presenting five tactile interpretations of pieces from the museum’s collection, inviting all visitors to explore the works. Visitors can enjoy reproductions of a 19th century gold statuette from the Ivory Coast; a Palestinian Pilgrim Shell, originally sculpted from mother of pearl; a contemporary Mexican yarn painting; a highly decorated child’s tunic from Turkmenistan and a large tapa cloth from the Wallis and Futuna Islands.

A hand touches a reproduction of a piece of indigenous artwork.
©Mikli Diffusion France 2019. Photos: Luc Marciano
Two hands feeling a reproduction of a piece of indigenous artwork.
©Mikli Diffusion France 2019. Photos: Luc Marciano

A podotactile strip along the floor guides visitors through the tactile collection which have been produced using elevated printing capabilities, which prints multiple layers of a UV curable ink to produce a textured output. In the case of these particular pieces, the surface is highly elevated for a true clarity of touch, but still retains the true texture and colour from the artist’s hand, as the prints are based upon extremely high-resolution photographic data from the original piece.

The exhibition ’20 Years of Collection Enrichment’ runs until Sunday 26th January at the Musée Du Quai Branly – Jacques Chirac, Paris.

Written by Marie-Anne Leonard

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