We held the Ontenna x Teshima Art Workshop during the summer of 2021 on Teshima island, which is located in the Seto Inland Sea. The workshop was attended by students from Kagawa Prefectural School for the Deaf, who traveled to the island by boat from Takamatsu, and by local students from Teshima Junior High School (the photograph above shows them welcoming the boat at the port). By using technology to experience the bodily sensations of the sound of art exhibits, the children realized that people have different ways of feeling things and learned the importance of overcoming whatever obstacles there may be to interact on a one-to-one basis and try to understand each other. We talked to Ms. Ayano Fujiwara from the Fukutake Foundation, who was involved in planning the workshop, to get a flavor of the event.

Providing a space for children to have new eye-opening experiences utilizing local art and technology

Ontenna is a wearable device that translates the loudness of a sound into corresponding strengths of vibration and light. The workshop was a joint project that realized the vision of device developer Mr. Tatsuya Honda (Fujitsu) to create a future in which people can enjoy music regardless of any disabilities and the desire of the Fukutake Foundation to allow people to experience the Teshima art works and nature with all of their five senses.

Ontenna emitting blue light. As it is able to detect the rhythms, patterns, and loudness of sounds in real time, the device can allow even people with hearing impairments to feel music through their eyes and skin.

Two mixed groups were formed from the 15 students from Teshima Junior High School and 12 elementary, junior high, and high school students from Kagawa Prefectural School for the Deaf and they went off to experience the Heartbeat Archive and Teshima Art Museum exhibits. Although they were a little nervous at first, they were soon hard at work with communication achieved through a mix of sign language, gestures, and lip reading.

Using Ontenna was “like having a heart in the palm of my hand!”

One of the rooms in the Heartbeat Archive called the Heart Room features an installation in which lights flash on and off in synch with the sound of heartbeats collected from around the world. The students first looked at the installation and then experienced it with a different sense using Ontenna.

Amid excited cries of “I can feel the strength of the heartbeat through the lights,” the students from the deaf school also noted “it’s dark and scary when I only look at it.” However, their reaction when using Ontenna was “It’s like having a heart in the palm of my hand! Being able to feel the rhythm is relaxing” and they appeared to discover the enjoyment of feeling sound. Seeing that caused the student from Teshima Junior High School to say “Why is it scary?”, “They are having a completely difference experience of the same thing”, and “Let me think again about how I really felt it” as they began to understand that there were different perspectives.

The Heartbeat Archive is a small art gallery which permanently preserves heartbeats collected by the artist from around the world and allows visitors to listen to them. These photos show the Heart Room, the Listening Room, and the Recording Room.

Next, in the Listening Room the students could listen to the collection of around 70,000 heartbeats. Depending on the level of their hearing abilities, they used headphones or the Ontenna to feel the sound. The students were interested in how others enjoyed the sounds and used methods to try to understand each other, including demonstrating the rhythms by tapping them out on a table and using worksheets to identify that “this is the same for everyone, this is different.”

The students used worksheets to record their impressions of listening to the heartbeats.

“This vibration is a cicada’s call.” Using your five senses to enjoy nature’s sounds.

The groups then moved on to the Teshima Art Museum. The pathway to the museum features a lot of greenery, and the Ontenna devices they were wearing reacted to this wealth of natural sounds. The students got excited by this stimulation of their senses that they don’t normally perceive.

Lower photo: The Teshima Art Museum (developed by Rei Naito and opened in 2010) allows visitors to sense running water coming from the floor and light and wind coming in from the opening in the ceiling.

Everyone is different, and that realization has the power to open up new avenues for the future.

The students enjoyed the workshop while engaging in active discussion on topics such as “How do you say this in sign language?”

Looking back on the workshop she helped plan, Ms. Fujiwara said:
“The exhibits at Benesse Art Site Naoshima are on the theme of “experiencing with the five senses.” We planned the workshop with the idea of the children discovering a new world by experiencing sound in a way they are not used to. When they actually tried it, they realized that everybody experiences the same piece of art in a different way, which made them consider why that is. The experience was made even more stimulating by mixing with students from a school they normally have no contact with.

Moreover, the children were really adept at closing the distance between the two groups using gestures. They all talked with each other and exchanged ideas as human beings regardless of whether they were an elementary school student or high school student or whether they had disabilities or not. This is something they did very naturally, with no need to be shown how to do it. It really brought home to me that such experiences when we are small are very important.”

In a society which is home to a diverse range of people, we should aim to create a prosperous future in which everyone can live a full life. Taking this idea as a guide, Fukutake Foundation intend to continue developing learning programs that utilize art and nature.

Photos supplied by the Fukutake Foundation and homevideo company inc.

Article cooperation

The Ontenna x Teshima Art Workshop
Held on Teshima, Kagawa Prefecture on 27 July, 2021. Sponsors: Fukutake Foundation, Fujitsu Ltd.
*Research support provided under the Strategic Basic Research funding program of the Japan Science and Technology Agency.

Fukutake Foundation (Japanese only)
As one of its main projects, the foundation developed Benesse Art Site Naoshima on the islands of Naoshima, Teshima, and Inujima in the Seto Inland Sea together with Benesse Holdings Inc.