It's so simple to be wise.  Just think of something stupid to say, and then don't say it.     Sam Levenson (1911-1980)

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Perception and Creation Beyond Sight, 2

I have just spent half an hour with the exhibit “Feeling and Meaning – Seeing Art Through Touch,” now open  in the Stern Gallery, a glass-walled pair of narrow rooms carved out of the wide, multi-angled hallway of the Humanities Wing of Hebrew University, Mt. Scopus. Although it is a small exhibit, featuring only twenty or so works, I easily could have stayed there an hour or more.  

I took advantage of what I knew would be an abridged visit by passing fairly quickly from one work to the next, noting my reactions to the new and often surprising discoveries that came with experiencing a body of art in ways beyond the visual.  Here are some of my impressions.

Here, You Can Touch.  I entered the gallery completely aware that these objects, all of which had three-dimensional aspects, were on display to be touched as well as seen. Yet I had to consciously stop myself from asking the security guard to confirm that yes, I really was allowed to touch everything.  This, in and of itself, was a freeing prospect, breaking a social convention while opening doors to a new way of perceiving the artwork.

Eyes Down, Hands Up.  I did not want to fall into an impossible attempt at closing my eyes and "pretending to be blind;"  as a seeing person -- however myopic -- I know that I am habituated to experiences my world "eyes first."   By closing them, I understood that would only be scraping the surface of taking in my surroundings via additional senses.  I chose instead to touch the work with eyes open, but limiting their use, either beginning with a brief glance, to get a general impression of the size, shape, color and subject of the work, or else fixing my gaze downward, until after I had first gotten to know the art through my hands.

The Same Work, Twice.  This duality, seeing the work only peripherally while allowing my sense of touch to dominate my sensory intake, led to a feeling of intense sensory dichotomy. Through touch alone I could not identify a small sculpture which afterwards, by sight, I effortlessly recognized as a bust of Chaim Weizmann.  But it wasn't just a matter of finding something recognizable;  the sculpture as perceived by my hands, was nothing like the one my eyes claimed to see.  In all but those two or three works containing exceedingly clean, straight lines and clear-cut materials, I was never able to reconcile what I looked at with what I touched, effectively turning every piece into two -- or more -- completely different works of art.

How Big, and How Wide?  
The first thing I did when approaching a piece was to run my hands along its edges, trying to establish a tactile understanding of the size of the work.  

Sharon Karni.  Frozen Abyss (Exodus 15:7-8), 2000-2004. Mixed technique on wood.

For many of the larger pieces, such as Sharon Karni's Frozen Abyss (Exodus 15:7-8), this process took time and required a certain effort -- reaching up, around, crouching down.  It struck me, the amount of time and effort that would be required to understand the scope and size of an image without the help of my eyes.

A Feeling for the Whole Picture.  It only got more difficult when I tried to create an overall internal picture of the work in front of me.  With information coming in from only two hands, I could take in about 100 square centimeters at a time, and only slowly, bit by bit.  I ended up trying -- unsuccessfully -- to assemble a disjointed collection of data into one coherent image, but found I could do so only afterwards, using my eyes.  My sensory experience lacked wholeness and continuity.  

Sharon Karni.  Frozen Abyss (Exodus 15:7-8), (detail), 2000-2004. Mixed technique on wood.

Zohar Ginio, the lawyer/artist, and only blind artist participating in the exhibit, noted in his interview with The Jerusalem Report that he limits his works to a small scale since it is difficult for blind people get a feel for a large work that they cannot feel all at once. Indeed, his stone sculpture The Laborer, a self-portrait of his hand, is large in impact but small enough (approx. 80 across) to allow both sighted and sightless people to take in the work as a whole.

Keep the balance,


Feeling and Meaning:  Seeing Art Through Touch

The Max and Iris Stern Gallery

Faculty of Humanities, Mt. Scopus

December 2008 - June 2009

Opening Hours: Sun-Thur 11:00-15:00 (except University holidays)

Curators: Susan Nashman Fraiman, Ahuva Passow-Whitman 

To contact Ahuva or arrange a guided tour, call 02-588-3881.

All photos here taken by ALN, and included here with permission of Ahuva.

1 comment:

muse said...

I never heard of it. Please email me with details. It sounds interesting.