Seeing without eyes

Have you ever been lucky enough to see without eyes?

I was introduced to the phenomena at Sensibility Festival. What’s maddening is that we can all do it ourselves anyway without realising.

Together with curators, Sensibility Festival explored dynamic ways to develop accessible and multisensory arts practice. 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.

 

Visual Creatures.

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 that we are so focused on what we can see. The example that springs to mind is the age old nugget, and slightly inappropriate theory that men are visual beings (think lingerie, lingerie, lingerie.)

However, what if we couldn’t see? Or what if we saw the world through touch instead?

The Touch Revelation.

Over the two days I volunteered at Sensibility, I worked in instillations that encouraged the assimilation of these wonderings.

First, I worked in an exhibit that had employed reams and reams of drapery to hang from the ceiling, to create a room reminiscent of the wardrobe in The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe. If you’ve read that book or seen the movie you know the scene. The one where Lucy accesses the ‘portal’ to Narnia, where 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 had instructed me to tell people to close their eyes and let their thoughts run off what only their fingers were telling 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. With that 30% of the cortex disengaged, the other 8% became more prominent and beautiful.

It was a fabulous two days, and I learnt so much from the activities I was lucky enough to take part in. I learnt that life is represented in more ways than just the visual, and that if we pay attention to even just the feel of the wallpaper, we will know so much more.

 

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