(This is a continuation piece of last week's post, Perception and Creation Beyond Sight 2).
Immaterial Elements and Tactile Shades. Light. Color. Texture. Composition. For most artists, these are key concepts, central considerations in all their work. With closed eyes, color becomes irrelevant, as does all but the brightest light.
Sharon Karni's works, so rich in scope and layering (as well as color) showed me that textural nuance and material variety can be experienced as colorful, in and of themselves. With eyes closed and color no longer a consideration, I was able to appreciate and enjoy the depth of Karni's tactile expression via her use of varied materials and textures, from wood relief to netting to nails.
(An internet search led to one Hebrew explanation of her tendency to incorporate natural elements, such as beach sand and seawater, to her pigments, further adding to their sense of tactility. The Biblical title of this work refers to words contained in a line of Moshe's Song of the Sea describing the Red Sea's waters as standing "frozen" on each side).
Sharon Karni, Frozen Abyss (Exodus 15:7-8), (detail), 2000-2004. Mixed technique on wood.
Cathedral, a medium-sized sculpture in plywood by Israel Hadany, could be mistaken for simplistic in shape, a smooth, nearly organic form that -- in contrast to the surging interior of an actual cathedral, sags toward the middle, only to soar upward at each end. To run my hands over its surface, eyes closed, was to flow down and up again, along its rounded exterior into the space created within. But the temptation of actually seeing this work wedged itself into my tactile experience after only a few seconds.
Israel Hadany, Cathedral, 2005. Plywood.
This was one of the few works for which, once I had opened my eyes, I could not limit myself to touch alone. The contrast of light and darkness, spilling over, around and within the form, had me mesmerized. An orderly row of small windows along its upper surface created a captivating sun-spot effect within. Experiencing the sculpture by touch alone sharpened my awareness of the piece's richness and depth of form, as well as the visual beauty a sightless person misses.
Israel Hadany, Cathedral, 2005 (interior). Plywood.
Compensation, Exaggeration. It is commonly believed that those lacking one sensory ability tend to deepen their other sensory abilities -- namely, hearing and touch -- in compensation. This makes sense to me, and I understand that magnetic imaging of the brain has proven it true on a neurological level as well.
During my visit, I cannot say that my neurological abilities shifted in any meaningful way, but my attention certainly did. The gallery, closed off only partially by short walls within the university's echoey, chamber-like corridor, had the opposite effect of that reflective, austere silence typical of most public art venues. After only a few minutes I was intensely, almost painfully aware of the volume of sound entering the venue. Previous wanderings through those halls, with my only goal to get from one end to the other, had not focused my awareness on the noise level, but here in the gallery I found it an almost overwhelming presence which disturbed my concentration. In this context, an "enhanced" ability to hear became a limitation.
Closed In, Exposed Outward. Last month, at a professional convention, I had the privilege of attending a presentation by several blind adults who shared some thoughts on their experiences before and after receiving dog guides. One man, a psychologist by profession, had lost his sight as a result of a war injury. He related his original refusal to have a dog guide, based on his fears of becoming dependent, and the many benefits he now credits to his canine companion, including a facilitation of his social connections with others. Instead of standing out as an objectified, dependent person, he and his dog now share the limelight, and a sense of healthy interdependence.
I remembered this man as I made my way around the exhibit, eyes closed, hands roaming over the artwork. I was acutely aware of the gallery's glass walls, and how ridiculous I must have looked to those who were unaware of the exhibit's focus. I felt exposed, and this bothered me. But I also felt strangely free, an unfamiliar sensation of being alone with myself, asking, If I can't see others, how much do I care how they see me?
In Conclusion. I am so visual a person, I find it extremely challenging to even imagine a world in which my sense of sight does not play a dominant role. Here in the Stern Gallery, I was reminded that my sight, for all its advantages, can limit my perception and my appreciation by its tendency to dominate my other senses. I came to learn that approaching art up close can, with all the irony implied, create a distance.
I credit this exhibit, its artists and curators, with providing us a particular opportunity to experience art -- and our own selves, experiencing the art -- anew.
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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 Passow-Whitman.
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Keep the balance,