Submitted by megan on Thu, 02/26/2009 - 22:28
I had an amazing experience tonight at Stimulating the Senses.
We met in the lobby of the NGC, and made our way slowly upstairs. When we got to the upper gallery, outside the room that held The Gas Station, I took my glasses off and put them on the cart.
I put on the blindfold. I could still see some light. I shut my eyes.
The guide gave me her arm, and we walked into the room: three blind people, two blindfolded sighted people, one sighted person wearing their regular glasses, the guide and her assistant.
Being suddenly sightless is highly disconcerting. I know, it's obvious. But I don't think you get it until it's gone. I didn't, at any rate.
We sat around a table covered in objects, and because I'd relied on my eyes to tell me who was who, I couldn't tell who was where, even though I'd been introduced to them not 15 minutes before. I couldn't tell how far away from me people were, at least until they spoke, which is a bit of a challenge for someone who likes her personal space.
I felt sea-sick and off kilter if I weren't touching the table in front of me.
We each had an object on the table in front of us, and we took turns describing them. Size, shape, texture, smell. People would ask questions, our guide would prod us a little or talk about colours.
After we finished that we walked the length of the 20 foot installation, the guide explaining what we were looking at, some people asking questions as we went, or offering anecdotes or their own explanation.
I stayed quiet, my arm tucked safely into the guide's armpit. Being sightless made me hesitant to speak, as if my mouth were somehow more viscerally connected to my eyes. I was hesitant to ask questions or offer my opinion. There were no visual clues to tell me when to chime in. I didn't know how to interact with a group without being able to gauge where people were or their mood.
As the guide was describing the art, I kept adding more to the picture in my head. White wooden window frame here, cans stacked there, oh, glass in the window frames, this stark white figure here, that colour black the background. As she talked, I felt a growing frustration - growing towards anxiety - that what was in my head wasn't right.
I desperately wanted to take the blindfold off. I noticed that I did and let it go. Just my body's reaction to having its normal touchpoints removed so quickly.
Anything that helps me give up on needing to Get It Right is something I should do more often.
The guide invited those of us who were blindfolded to take them off if we wanted, and, if we did, to talk about how what we saw differed from what was in our head.
You'd think I would have jumped at the chance. But I didn't say anything, just shook my head slightly and stayed in the dark.
Afterwards, when the blindfold was off, we all went back to a seminar room and had tea and cookies, talked about what we'd seen. Experienced. The other sighted person and I talked a bit about how disconcerting the whole thing was.
I hadn't really wanted to go there, because I felt like it might seem childish to them, naive. Like we were horning in on one of the few bits of programming that was actually meant for them. Like, "Fucking hell, blah blah blah. Easy for you to be all shocked and full of wonder, when you don't have to live with it." But the two women particularly seemed happy to talk.
"You use it," the woman on the left said. "Every last bit of sight you have. If you only have 3 or 4 per cent, you pick something up and hold it next to your face, right under your eyes. You hold on to seeing as long as you can."
Somehow, that was comforting.
At the end of the night, I said I'd like to go back and see the installation. But I don't know. The link up top takes you to a thumbnail of the piece, and when the tiny picture popped up on the screen, I automatically turned mt head. I still didn't want to see it.
Like reading a good book, a book that's become special to you, opened you up in ways you'd wanted opening, and you don't want the movie to fuck up what's in your head.