Have you ever been lucky enough to see without eyes?
I was introduced to the phenomena at Sensibility Festival, a festival which explores new ways to develop accessible and multi sensory arts practise. It requires an open mind and an active engagement of the other senses. What I found maddening is that we can all do it ourselves anyway, without a specific exhibition to show us how.
As a volunteer steward I worked with the exhibits for two days, and was privy to the experience of having my eyes finally opened…
by closing them.
The eye’s retina, which contains 150 million light-sensitive rod and cone cells, is actually an outgrowth of the brain. According to Seyens, in the brain itself, neurons devoted to visual processing take up about 30 % of the cortex, as compared with 8 % for touch and just 3 % for hearing.
It stands to reason therefore that we are more focused on what we can see. We all know men are meant to be visual beings (think lingerie, lingerie, lingerie.)
However, what if we couldn’t see? Or what if we saw the world through touch instead? How would that affect how we saw?
The Touch Revelation.
Over the two days I volunteered at Sensibility, I worked in instillations that encouraged the assimilation of these wonderings.
My favourite exhibit had reams and reams of drapery hung down from the ceiling, to create a room reminiscent of the wardrobe Lucy walks through to access Narnia in The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe. In the scene of the movie, she runs her fingers through the different fur coats, and you can feel the oppressive intensity of them pressing against you in your mind as you read. What you see in the movie is all the coats, but what you feel is much more impressive. It is the close proximity, the stifling stillness, the compact nature of the wardrobe that lasts the impression.
This exhibit took me back to that feeling I had reading the book. I’m not sure I would have had the same startling flashback had it been a picture of the exhibit. What’s needed is the material to touch, to let the fingers play.
As I showed people round the exhibit, and explained what the creator of the room had intended, I realised I had not followed the advice I was giving to them.
I was not closing my eyes.
The creator of the exhibit’s clear instructions had been to close your eyes and let your thoughts run off what only your fingers tell them.
It was fascinating how different the velvets, embroidery and rough starch felt once I had taken away the primacy of those 150 million rods and cones. Suddenly bumps became like mini road blocks to my hands, each thread made itself known and my meeting with the material became more present. I felt surprise at the immediacy of the dips and curves that suddenly came and went. With that 30% of the cortex disengaged, the other 8% had become more beautiful.
As a volunteer I was catering for those who were less able-bodied than others. This event was inclusive for those that couldn’t see, those that were deaf and those that had learning difficulties. Each exhibit was designed to enthral everyone, no matter what their level of abilities were. Food was incorporated, exhibitions that played with sight and musical instruments permeated the excited sounds that were a constant from those that passed me. I felt part of something bigger whilst standing in the same spot for hours on end.
Never have I been further than those two days that I learnt to close my eyes. Those who came too, experienced an exhibition that was for once engineered for them. Life is represented in more ways than just the visual, and if we pay attention to even just the feel of the wallpaper, our lives will run deeper.