Design, multisensoriality, inclusion. By Aldo Grassini

Aldo Grassini – President,  Museo Tattile Statale Omero

Twenty-eight years since its foundation, the Museo Omero is opening a new section dedicated to Italian design.

The founding law (n. 452, 1999), in laying out the aims of the new institution, specifies a commitment “to fostering the growth and cultural integration of the visually impaired and to propagating among them the consciousness of reality” (Art. 2). So the Museo Omero was not conceived exlusively as an art museum, even though it has mainly operated in this area up to now. With this in mind, it was practically incumbent on us to extend that area from the realm of art, as conventionally understood, to embrace design.

Art is beauty produced by man. There is a strong tradition which holds that art is indissolubly linked to uniqueness, one that would appear to clash with the very concept of industrial art which is necessarily linked to serial production. But there is a tendency today for culture to contest these demarcations and to inhabit a sphere free of rigid ideological boundaries which are, in any case, based more on tradition than sound theoretical inquiry.

If the artist’s task is to produce things of beauty, to discuss the material used becomes a secondary consideration. Besides, design, too, springs from the mind of a creator, while serial production meets the need for the product to be widely available. After all, the art of engraving has always attempted to reconcile the twin claims of originality and propagation.

But as well as creating aesthetically valid products, design plays a more intense role in our daily lives, combining beauty with utility, accompanying our every action, even the most boring and repetitive, with the gratification inherent in objects which give pleasure and, on occasions, the admiration inspired by sheer brilliance. In a word, design contributes to improving our lives!

Another aspect of design which is of central interest to us is its intrinsic multisensoriality: because an object in common use is made to be handled, touched unapologetically. The absurd taboo against touching which still holds sway in almost all museums (in line with the ancient prejudice that art is essentially visual) simply collapses in the face of design. Hence the dawning recognition – unobtrusive, almost surreptitious – that it is possible to take pleasure in something beautiful by simply using it and enjoying the sensations and emotions which it arouses.

As we have said time and time again, the Museo Omero was founded, certainly, to enable the visually impaired to enjoy art, but in addressing everyone it is a model of inclusion. Multisensoriality is the most democratic experience available because it excludes nobody. And the Museo Omero’s Design Collection brilliantly achieves this aim by presenting its artefacts for what they are: objects in everyday use that we can look at, touch, listen to, as well as understand their origin and social function within the context which produced them.

This is interesting for everyone and it often means retrieving a part of our lives with all the associated emotions which memory rekindles. But it is even more interesting for those who, like the visually impaired, have had less opportunity to know the things which everyone talks about or draw on memories of them. For the youngest it means broadening their knowledge of a reality which here goes beyond the limits of the verbal and enters the sphere of the concrete; for those further advanced along the road of experience it can make possible a leap backwards into the past which – with the miraculous aid of memory, enabling us to relive the feelings and images which are part of ourselves – can also help us to a better understanding of all that the flux of life has deposited in the subsoil of our consciousness.