Touch To See, Technology Bridges Disability
The mysterious smile, the harmonious face, the exquisite and intricate fabric of her tunic; it is natural to associate these characteristics with Leonardo’s masterpiece Mona Lisa. The identifiable qualities of this painting have inspired artists throughout the eras, but what if someone will never be able to see her smile?
For the visually impaired, Mona Lisa, The Girl with a Pearl Earring, or the Guernica are no more than names and transient descriptions. Sight impairment requires people to perceive art through senses other than vision, an arduous initiative that Marc Dillon, co-founder, COO, and Head of Software at Jolla, is bringing forward with his “Unseen Art” project, a program to create 3D paintings that can be appreciated and recognised through touch.
In the past years, 3D printing has become one of the most employed technologies in the market, being tested with materials from concrete to clay to plastic. The uses of this technology embrace diverse fields and disciplines, and art is nonetheless one of these.
A large number of art pieces are only in two dimensions, and museums, galleries, or cultural associations have not made much progress in making these treasures available to everyone. The Unseen Art project breaks museums’ old rule of “do not touch the artworks.” Instead, it invites the audience to experience a painting like never before, to feel their details with fingertips.
The process allowing this project to exist is not simple: a 3D-specialist artist creates an interpretation of a high-resolution photograph of a painting in 3D through software; the elements in perspective of the painting are turned into accurate 3Dmensional details able to be felt and recognized by touching them. Ultimately, the artist almost repaints the artwork, deciding what should be simplified and what should be given depth while concurrently trying to be faithful to the original work.
One of the most significant and considerate parts of the project is making it available to everyone regardless of their location or accessibility to 3D artists. The printable files created are shared for free online, for anyone to access them, and 3D print them.
Marc Dillon has also launched a fundraising campaign to raise money to create this accessible catalogue of files and print some of the artworks. Again, he has found a way to bridge technology and disabilities, overturning how we, as a community, experience art.
“This is a pretty good size, you know, you can sort of feel around it. Her nose is kind of long like it says it was like that. But it’s the expression that’s the most mysterious here, it’s a little bit enigmatic kind of. Yeah, yeah, she wasn’t exactly a classical beauty. My fingers are excited”. This description of a visually impaired person accessing for the first time the Mona Lisa is proof of the potential this project has in paving new ways to employ technologies to implement people’s needs smartly.