Valori Tattili was a project developed in Bergamo in 2018 from an idea of Lucia Cecio, head of the Accademia Carrara Education Service, with the patronage and involvement of the Italian Union of the Blind and Visually Impaired. It was designed in collaboration with Valeria Bottalico, museum accessibility expert and curator of Double Meaning at the Peggy Guggenheim Collection in Venice. Valori Tattili was an original and engaging journey which offered the visitors an alternative way to enjoy sculpture, abandoning their visual certainties to embrace new tactile sensations. Four visually impaired guides, Filippo, Francesco, Maria Teresa and Samanta, guided the explorers’ hands on the marbles: we asked them more about that fascinating project.

Who was Valori Tattili addressed to?

We are particularly proud to say that Valori Tattili was designed for both sighted and blind visitors. Hence, it was addressed to anyone who wished to deepen their knowledge of the art of sculpture by bringing into play another sense, touch! This means that, in our exhibition, visitors could both look and touch!

How was the visit organized? And the tactile exploration?

Our visits began in the entrance hall with a brief introduction on the history of the Giacomo Carrara Museum. It then continued on the upper floor, where visitors could find four sculptures of the Federico Zeri Collection, which were the object of the tactile exploration. We took a few minutes to provide some information about Federico Zeri, his collection and his link with the museum. At that point, we moved on to the real tactile exploration. Each of us stood near a sculpture and invited a visitor to come closer. In order to minimize waiting times and movements inside the room, we always stood still and the visitors moved from one sculpture to another. Before they started to touch the works, we told them something more about the historical period in which they were made, the author, and the sculpted character. Each of us enriched the presentation with curiosities and details drawn from our personal cultural background, from literature to anthropology. And then we finally encouraged the visitors to touch! We asked the sighted visitors to cover their eyes with a mask: of course, that was an option, not an obligation. Once both of us were close to the sculpture, the guide took the visitor’s hands and guided them to the tactile discovery of the work, moving from top to bottom. The exploration took place slowly to allow the visitor to savour every detail. This continued until all our guests had completed the tour.

The touch of so many hands could have damaged the sculptures, in the long term, couldn’t it?

It could. To prevent this, the museum selected works in a good state of conservation and monitored them carefully and constantly for the whole period of the project, so as to be able to promptly intervene if needed. Luckily, we had no problems during this first cycle.

What is the added value of that kind of experience compared to a traditional visit?

The advantages are undoubtedly many. First of all, the visitor can better understand the work of a sculptor, which is essentially based on the contact between hand and matter. As one of our visitors (a painter!) rightly pointed out, in all museums, the sculptures should be touched, even before they are watched! Our exhibition offered a more complete and satisfying aesthetic experience, which was meant as an invitation to make the most of our senses, enriching, even in our daily life, our perception and interiorization of the world. The relationship between the guide and the person being guided was also different because the distance that usually exists between one and the other was eliminated: the overlap and physical contact between two unknown hands triggers a strong mutual exchange of emotions and energy. Not to mention that it takes a good deal of trust! That was perhaps the most important element of our project because that apparently simple gesture fulfills the task of art and culture, namely to convey humanity.

What kind of feedback did you get from the public?

We mainly had a sighted audience who repeatedly noted the great difference between the sculptures that they perceived through sight and those that they experienced through touch, both in terms of size and identification of details. In general, it seems to us that our public was satisfied, involved and excited: this is also why we can't wait to start again!

Have you attended a specific training program to become a “tactile guide”?

Of course. The program consisted of two parts, a theoretical and a practical one, and during the entire period we were supported, in particular, by Lucia Cecio and Valeria Bottalico. As for the first part, we learned about the various peculiarities of marble, how it is worked and how it must be preserved, and the history and vicissitudes of the museum and the Zeri Collection. Then we moved on to the practical part by venturing into the tactile exploration of the sculptures involved: it was very important to understand how to guide the visitors’ hands in the right way, without exerting excessive pressure, with gentleness and precision. Finally, we learned how to orient ourselves in the museum and among the sculptures in order to be autonomous in guiding visitors.

What impact has that experience had on you personally, how has that experience personally influenced you?

It has enriched, excited and thrilled us!