I make art that stimulates the senses

A woman holding a cup to the lips of another woman who is sitting in a wheelchair

I’m an artist who focuses on creating concerts that stimulate the senses, particularly sound, taste, touch and movement. I manage Bittersuite, a company that’s pioneering new ways to experience music through all the senses, and the Open Senses Festival.

I’ve always enjoyed making works for all the senses, so I was keen to start working with the charity Sense and their Arts team, when I learned that my work could be used to stimulate and inspire people with complex disabilities and sensory impairments.

Everyone likes their senses to be stimulated in different ways

Two women smiling and dancing

As an artist, I believe it’s my job to work collaboratively with others to find new ways to be flexible and accessible with workshops and sessions, so that everyone – no matter how complex their communication needs – can take part in the creative process.

From my own work, and through working with the Sense Arts team and the people Sense supports, I’ve learned that everyone likes their senses to be stimulated in different ways.

When creating multi-sensory art, we shouldn’t always look to make everyone happy. In fact, art is meant to challenge. But it’s also possible to create a safe space in which to experiment and experience those challenges – a place where different reactions and behaviours can be supported and explored.

Hands holding textiles hanging from above

Working with people with sensory impairments and complex needs, I believe creativity can be fostered by paying attention to the reactions and instincts of those making and experiencing the works. The more I learned about the different interests of the people Sense supports – whether that’s a love of cooking or perhaps a passion for music – the more I was able to tailor activities that engaged and inspired.

When you start to think about all the senses, you really open up a world of possibilities for unusual and interactive ways of working. Working with Sense also inspires new ideas, like using a ‘resonance board’ – a large piece of wood designed to amplify noises and vibrations, particularly used by Sense specialists to enhance and stimulate play activities for children with sensory impairments. One performance we created, used a ‘resonance board’, and with the audience blindfolded, we immersed them into a percussive performance that resonated through the board.

Creating Sensibility, Birmingham’s first ever disability arts festival

A group of women crouch on the floor in a studio space

Recently Sense collaborated with Graeae Theatre, and BitterSuite – the company that I’m artistic director for, on creating Birmingham’s disability arts festival called Sensibility.

The festival showcased artistic works created by people with multiple sensory impairments, older people (particularly with dementia), and those with complex communication needs. These works were the culmination of a series of arts workshops led by local artists and Sense at their new multipurpose venue, TouchBase Pears.

The creative journey

Under a green light, two hands press against a wall

In preparation for the festival, I really spent my time talking to the artists working with Sense, exploring their ideas, and helping them unpick what they wanted to focus on, and their creative journey as artists.

I offered advice and guidance to Sense and the local artists leading the workshops, on ways to use the senses that they may not have considered.

In any area, I think a understanding the senses is essential. We discover information about the person in front of us and we learn new ways to reach and communicate with people.

Through the Sensibility festival, we’re seeing an opportunity to foster a generation of sensory artists who have complex communication needs, including deafblindness. People who may want to explore new and exciting art forms, whether that’s making ‘edible installations’, crafting sculptures to be moved and touched, or creating memorable perfumes to be smelled.

The legacy of the Sensibility festival, is that we have identified a gap in the arts for exploring the senses more than ever before. We hope to foster, nurture and discover passionate artists with complex disabilities, including deafblindness, who want to experience creating art that puts the senses at the front of their art making.

Sense Arts pioneers the development and delivery of arts activities, workshops and events specially tailored towards individuals with sensory impairments.

Author: Stephanie Singer

Stephanie manages Bittersuite, a company that produces sensory musical performances. Steph collaborated with Sense Arts to produce Birmingham's first disability arts festival, "Sensibility", a festival for all the senses.

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