Experiencing Balboa Park through Haptic Touch

By Karlie DeBerard

Balboa Park and The Museum of Man in San Diego is a unique sight to be experienced, both through visuality and through haptic touch. I decided to go to Balboa Park and experience it not through my eyesight but instead through my tactile senses of what I could physically feel about the park. I went with a friend who would guide me since I do not have any previous experience with walking in public spaces without using my sight but I walked where I wanted to and where I was able to, with my friend just stepping in if I was about to walk into an area that was not a safe walkway.

I immediately felt the tile on the ground and it reminded me of Spanish- style architecture. I noticed the cobbled streets and how it felt when I walked down them, immediately gaining a sense of grandeur from the wide, open space. I heard Spanish guitar and live music around me in the distance, connecting the cobblestone walkways to the music that I heard. Walking forward I walked into the Museum of Man with the assistance of my friend. I put my hand around the entrance to the doorway and feel that the entrance to the Museum of Man felt cool to the touch and it felt like the trim of the walls was made out of wood.

I headed to my right, with my hand placed on the wall and walked to an exhibit. I overheard the exhibit talking about DNA and how that was related to people’s physical makeup. All I heard was the title of the exhibit as nothing was described to me, but I was able to feel a smooth and cool surface that had buttons, that relayed different facts about DNA when I touched them. I could physically feel that there was a laminated flip book for me to read as well, but I could not tell what the words were without my sight. I walked further along the museum to a different area where I felt a smooth plastic barrier in what turned out to be an Operation- style game. I tried to use the tongs to take the body parts and try to put them in the correct spot without triggering the buzzer. But without my sight, it is almost impossible to play this game and I walk away after a minute or so.

            I then find the exit with the help of my friend and walk outside, trying to make it to the Prado Restaurant but getting lost after walking around on the cobblestone for about ten minutes. I then open my eyes and orient myself in Balboa park, and I walk back to the two exhibits that I went through blindfolded. I realized that when I went through the exhibits with my sight I didn’t linger on the exhibits as long, and while I was able to read the exhibits and gain a fuller understanding of what the exhibits were about, I wasn’t focused on the content of them as much.       Through this exercise on haptic touch I relied on all my other senses except fo my eyes, and I realized that there are many elements of art that are haptic and are not related to the eyes. Georgina Kleege’s “Haptic Encounters” exhibit encompasses this and it was through my experience at Balboa Park not using my eyesight that I was able to relate to Kleege’s work in the world of haptic encounters, and the access of haptic encounters in public spaces like the Museum of Man.