Thursday, March 03, 2005

Art exhibition for the blind - yawn

I was on BBC3 News last night.

Why was I on? Well I got a call Tuesday to ask whether or not I'd be interested in trotting down to a new exhibition said to be the world's first exhibition totally accessible to visually impaired people, at the Royal College of Arts here in London. It was all put on by BlindArt.

I first tried to give the researcher a bunch of other names who might do it but, after speaking to me and hearing my thoughts and worries about these kinds of exhibitions, she was keen to get me on TV.

So yesterday morning at 10:20 I met James the news reporter and Brett the cameraman. I was feeling quite confident of my ground and position on feeely accessible art but also intrigued to see whether or not the artists could capture my mind through my sense of touch, feel and smell.

James was cool, nice bloke, very friendly. I had previously understood that they were going to balance my views with someone who was an art enthusiast. It turned out that the other contributor had been dropped ... and in fact later that evening when the news was broadcast, I was credited as being the reporter which surprised me not just a contributor as such. Me though, eh, TV reporter?

To cut a long story short I really didn't get the exhibition. I don't understand why prickly things on a board is 'art for the blind'. It's crude, wrong-headed and meaningless as far as I am concerned.

Exhibits I saw (groped) included: a square board that felt a bit sandpapery. Also a pile of rubber gloves with fairy liquid inside, a marble statue of a woman lying down on the back of a man with her feet entangled in his ... it looked like (or I'm told it looked like) they were flying through the air. I puzzled over it for ages because I didn't understand what it was.

There was one piece of art that gave me a rather extreme reaction. It was a kind of crude spiky twisty rafia weave that had little jinglye bells and curlers stitched into it. So, lots of lovely nice spiky things for a blind man to touch (bless) and, if you shook it, it jingled a bit. I was angry that people who came to this exhibition might look at it and think "ahh yes, this is obviously a good thing for blind people, there's lots here for them". I believe that on camera I said something like "It looks like something I'd hang over my baby nephew's cot to stimulate his developing senses". And it really did remind me of something like that. A more patronising piece of so-called art I've never seen.

The TV show grabbed me saying this soundbite: "They have spent too much time trying to stimulate my remaining senses, they should have spent more time trying to stimulate my brain".

My mum and sister thought I looked good on the item, Sara liked it I think and I got an email from Liz (one of my writers) saying she thought it was good too. I'm expecting some fallout in my inbox when I get in to work later.

What really bugs me is that the publicity went big on the fact it was a wholly accessible art exhibition. Of course this got the media flocking to the event "something nice for the blind, something nice for the blind". It'll be in The Guardian and all kinds of other press today, I'm sure of it. Seriously though, what I saw of it was pretty bollocks. I like the cherleader pompom exhibit ... though possibly because it just made me think about cheerleaders which you've got to admit isn't appalling.

Why didn't they have some cool sound installations? Touch and feel is so crude and uncomplicated, sound can have depth in the same way that pictures can. Music is known to touch people , for instance. The sound of a crying child is going to evoke emotion. Art should evoke emotion and stir something in my soul. Feeling something prickly, that is prickly for the sake of being prickly, stirs nothing in me. This 'accessible visual art' idea really needs to grow up a little more before it can be thought of seriously. To my mind, a beautifully and amazingly engineered Coca Cola can is quite incredible and evokes all kinds of memories and ideas of taste and smell. Bloody prickly art. I was patronised by an exhibition meant for me yesterday, I think.

I feel a bit bad that some of the artists, and some of the organizers, were visually impaired. I feel I threw a bomb at the brotherhood. But sorry if you're going to choose the blind card in the way they did in their publicity, there has got to be a counter, an alternative slant that doesn't just buy into and perpetuate the stupid blind stereotypes around.

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