Juanan Soria

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In the meantime the group visits were resumed, but we still give you a story, an anecdote, a look at a work of art by one of our guides.

Our group visits still cannot be restarted. Fortunately, we can continue to count on our guides. These fascinating storytellers also guide you into the museum via the digital route. Today, our guide is Juanan Soria.

A touching business

‘Please don’t touch!’ These are words that the museum guards use every day at S.M.A.K. to remind visitors that they are not allowed to physically touch the artworks. It is a routine situation as a consequence of an irreplaceable relationship between the visitor and the artworks on display. It’s hard to believe that I have actually missed these tense moments, which as a guide I must try to prevent, during the past three quiet months of lockdown.

A museum is a meeting place between the visitor and the exhibition installation. A place where the visitor can dream, reflect, enjoy, become angry, and so on; but above all, a place where they can have a physical and sensorial experience. A museum is pointless if it is unable to welcome people.

The coronavirus era has confronted us with a different reality that entails a range of new rules and a series of limitations to our freedom. We suddenly found ourselves unable to visit museums, for example. Attempts were made to seek out replacements, and a wide range of digital solutions were harnessed. These included taking a tour of an exhibition ‘from your own home’ or getting to know a selected artwork by means of a short description from a curator on social media. The digital experience seems to me to be very limited, and it misses some aspects of an artwork which can only be grasped through an actual visit, because a visit goes beyond the merely visual. For example, the way that the artworks have been positioned in a space, the chosen light, the intensity of the colour determined by this choice, the smell and the texture of the materials, or those works that call to mind a certain taste or memory.

I believe that a guide must be more than merely a narrator, or a person who points things out. Words and images are constantly used in the digital solutions, but this alone is not enough. An artwork is far more than this. I believe that a guide is a sensorial facilitator who helps the visitor to go further. A guide is like a key that opens up the right doors of the senses to a particular artwork.

‘Interminável’ by Artur Barrio was an ephemeral spatial installation that was part of the unforgettable exhibition ‘Highlights for a Future. The Collection (1)’. The installation consisted of common, everyday items – such as coffee, wine or bread – dispersed across the space. Coffee on the floor, mountains of stale bread in the corners and bottles of wine stacked up against the wall. One of the guided tours I conducted during this exhibition was with an OKAN group: teenage, non-native speakers who had recently arrived in Belgium and were learning Dutch. With this target audience you have to use an ‘international language’, and stimulating the senses felt like the best approach. To bring the artwork to life, I opted to make the group’s first approach an unusual one: they would visit the installation with their eyes covered and with bare feet. Thus they were able to experience the characteristics of the materials used by Barrio more intensely than they would have done had they approached it in the normal (visual) way. When you smell and feel instead of looking, this stimulates you to think and to experience the artwork. I still remember the guards’ anxious faces when they saw a lively group of blindfolded teenagers enter the room on bare feet. After this initial experience, we left the room and discussed our feelings and expectations as a group. There were multiple interpretations and emotions. These ranged from fear to pleasure, from connections to their home countries, to total consternation. After this spontaneous conversation, we visited the installation for a second time, but this time in a traditional way to set the guards’ minds to rest. The pupils and teachers were incredibly enthusiastic, and hugely surprised by the original way in which they had approached and discovered Barrio’s work. It was touching!

For a contemporary museum such as S.M.A.K., the visitors’ physical experience is more important than ever. So please come back to the museums and allow yourself to be touched by an artwork!

Juanan Soria

Juanan Soria is a visual artist. He has been working as a guide at S.M.A.K. since spring 2018.


We hope to allow group visits again but this is subject to what the National Security Council will decide in the future.
Through this link you will find all information.

23.Sep.20 Category: Don't forget the guide
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