Feel free

Miriam Cadji gets to grips with museum pieces that visitors are encouraged to touch, and – in an age when our eyes can deceive us – asks how the exhibits challenge visitors’ perceptions

Dis-armour, created by Krzysztof Wodiczko, 2001

Touching also allows us to re-connect with objects around us. Texture is all too often neglected by designers in favour of the purely visual, but the way an object feels can be its defining quality: materials such as cashmere or porcelain are prized for their sensual, tactile qualities. When we see objects, we expect them to feel a certain way: wool should feel soft and warm, while metal should feel hard and cold. Many designers in the show deliberately play with this idea of sensory disjunction, mismatching materials and playing with the appearance of texture to force a conscious connection between physical and visual responses. In the modern home everything can be controlled by the touch of a plastic switch – technology makes the experience of living slick and smooth, but undeniably colder, reducing the quality of touch from the subtle to basic – one button on a keypad feels very much the same as any other. ‘Objects used to gain in value as they wore, but contemporary objects don’t have that – if anything, my computer loses value,’ says Aldersey-Williams.

While wear and tear can add to an object’s appeal, is there any concern that the items on show might get damaged? Visitors can touch two thirds of the exhibits, with the exception of video pieces, museum loans and precious prototypes, which are placed out of harm’s way. ‘If things do wear out, that’s a measure of the success of the show,’ says Aldersey-Williams, who credits the designers’ generosity in taking part and adds that insurance costs for the show aren’t unusually high. His only concern is that visitors in such a formal museum setting will be too restrained to touch the exhibits.

Touch Me runs 16 June to 29 August at the Victoria & Albert Museum, Cromwell Road, London SW7 Tel: 020 7942 2000 1 Tune Me, an ellipse-shaped structure that enables the user to listen to radio waves in a constantly changing scenario of light, mood and visual experience, designed by Line Ulrike Christiansen, Stefano Mirti, Stefano Testa from the Interaction Institute Ivrea

2 Pleat wellies, created by Rachael Sleight, 2003

3 Pull Up vase, designed by Gitta Gschwendtner and Fiona Davidson, 2001

4 Embroidered tablecloth by Hella Jongerius, 2000

5 Hands On rug, designed by Carmel McElroy and Donna Wilson, 2003

6 Kokon Double chair, created by Jurgen Bey of Droog Design, 1997

7 Dis-armour, created by Krzysztof Wodiczko, 2001

8 Sensual Shiver, created by Naomi Filmer, 2000

Latest articles