Ann Cunningham at work in her studio as she carves a slate wolf with her files. In the background you can see additional sculptures.

3-D Studio Demo Artist Ann Cunningham

Ann Cunningham will be in the 3-D Studio demonstrating multisensory tactile art February 10–11. In the studio on February 7–February 13 visitors are invited to experience her artworks through touch.

You also can experience her artworks at Tactile Tables in Linking Asia 11 am–1 pm on February 9 and 10.

...touch is not given the recognition that it deserves when we think about how we understand the world we live in.

– Ann Cunningham

Olivia Davies: What will your demonstration at the DAM look like? What can visitors expect?

Ann Cunningham: I am going to be exhibiting work that explores the breadth of the types of tactile art that I create. I define tactile art as art that can be understood through touch. By creating multisensory sculpture and graphics, people of diverse abilities can enjoy a more dynamic experience of artwork and images.

I will have a number of bas relief slate sculptures and mixed media sculptures on display. All my work can be touched. I also will be demonstrating how I create images for books. I will be able to walk people through the steps that it takes to marry visual and tactile images together into one multisensory story. I also will have a thermoform machine to demonstrate how images can be reproduced from one master tactile graphic.

OD: Please tell us how you got started doing tactile artwork.

AC: Because I was already making slate bas relief sculpture it was not a great leap to wonder if someone who is blind might be able to enjoy these images as well. But answering that question fully took almost 20 years. My biggest break came when I met Julie Deden, Director at the Colorado Center for the Blind in 1999, because she gave me the time and encouragement to work with students on this exploration. I still teach art classes there today. Now a much larger community is pursuing the idea that art and science should be much more accessible and it is exciting to see how these concepts are rapidly evolving.

Straw Boat is an image of a young girl kneeling in a small boat made of straw. She holds a fishing rod in her hand and seems to be following an etheric figure in the sky.
Photo courtesy Ann Cunningham.

OD: How has the interactive quality of your work changed you and your audience’s conceptions of art?

AC: I have had a number of different experiences over the years that have made me realize that touch is not given the recognition that it deserves when we think about how we understand the world we live in. I have experienced some tactile illusion that visitors can try their hand at when they stop by. I have also had experiences that have been hard to recreate but I know they are possible because I did experience them at least once. For instance, I was feeling one image of five birds, with my eyes closed, when all of a sudden it became one bird jumping around. It looked like an animated black and white chalk drawing flickering in my mind's eye. This has happened a few times but I still haven't been able to identify exactly what triggers set it off. We are just at the beginning of discovering what tactile art can be. It feels like I'm on a great adventure.

OD: I saw in your artist’s statement that you are working on expanding your work to include sound. How is that process going? What rewards and challenges have you encountered along the way?

AC: I quickly discovered that it helps to use a story to put pictures into context. If you know what you are looking for it is easier to identify parts of the image. At first I told the story with large print and Braille. Soon after, some friends of mine helped me to add audio narration. I have been exploring a number of different concepts that innovators around me are inventing. I hope to have a few on hand at this exhibit. I will have a high-quality system, a very inexpensive example, and some others that fall in between.

Olivia Davies is a studio and artist programs intern in the department of learning and engagement at the Denver Art Museum.

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