Tactile exhibition leads to insight

HAVE you ever wondered what it’s like to spend your entire life in darkness, as blind and sight-impaired people do?

Touch- the setup

Touch- the setup

Tuggeranong Arts Centre and the Canberra Blind Society are offering the Canberra public a rare opportunity to experience that sensation and the heightened awareness that comes when two of the five senses are missing.

In the new so-called ‘tactile’ exhibition, “Touch,” billed by the centre as “the best installation you’ll never see,” eight sight -impaired Canberra artists led by local artist Tony Steel with  Teffany Thiedemann and Adele Rae Cameron have created an exhibition that you can only see blindfolded.

The treehouse

The treehouse

Reminiscent of a theatre production-in-the-dark by TAC’s Community Cultural Inclusion Officer, Jorge Bagnini, some years ago, the exhibit is the result of community investigations and workshops.Participating artists include Leonie Pye, Sarah Ferguson, Emma Lea Sheather, Meredith Pettit, Emelita Kerezepa and Lien To.

Very kindly, arts centre staffer, Dominic Lavers, whipped around and snapped some of the artworks I never ‘saw’ when I visited The Courtyard Studio, Canberra Theatre Centre yesterday morning.

Dress of leaves

Dress of leaves

If you go, be warned, it’ll be just you, your slippered feet and a new experience waiting.

To be strictly accurate, Lavers gave me a few tips at the beginning until I worked out how, by shuffling my feet sideways, I could follow the raised cord that indicated a route around the exhibition.

Once on track, I learnt to wave my hands around in a circle whenever I reached a knotty spot and could touch parts of the installation.

Disembodied legs

Disembodied legs

There were soft and scratchy items There was a hard object that turned out to be a huge foot, not unlike a Buddha’s foot. There was a tree-house with a rope leading up to it. There was part of a body – just waist and legs. There were bristly things – I wondered if the artists had stolen somebody’s doormat. There were hot things and cold things and a large shell that emitted sweet talk from artist Leonie Pye.

Sweet talk from Leonie Pye

Sweet talk from Leonie Pye

Although I never experienced the sensation of slime – and I overheard artist Steel discussing this omission – I experienced most of the others. There were the sounds of objects clashing, maybe bamboo pipes or just as easily ducting pipes that occasionally made music. There was the smell of maybe apple and certainly lavender in small sachets. But there was no taste and no sight.

Clashing pipes

Clashing pipes

As I gradually acclimatised to my half-hour circular journey around the Courtyard Studio I experienced something similar to meditation, so concentrated was the experience.

In my life I have had three very close colleague-friends who were blind, all of them very remarkable people known for their insights and observations. This extraordinary exhibition showed me how limited those of us in the sight-dominated world can be. No doubt, given time, my skills in the underused senses could become more sophisticated, but yesterday morning I was very much challenged.

It is a challenge I very strongly recommend to members of the public.

“Touch: the best installation you never see,” at The Courtyard Studio, Canberra Theatre Centre, July 2-12. Bookings for the half hour blindfold tour of  the exhibition to 6275 2700 or https://www.canberratheatrecentre.com.au/site/what-is-on.php?task=search&search=touch&category=6101&from=&to=&x=63&y=3

All photographs by Dominic Lavers.

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