Friday, January 4, 2013

Walking In Darkness - Sensory Deprivation

Niewidzialna Wystawa in Polish, which translates as the The Invisible Exhibition, is currently a big attraction in Warsaw. The report I've just read says the idea originated in Hungary a few years ago, but I recognise it as identical to an exhibition held in London, beneath the South Bank arts centre in the mid-1990s. 
The exhibition is in complete darkness and consists of a guided tour for a small group of people through a series of mocked up everyday environments led by a blind person. At the time it was in London, I was deeply into experiments in sensory deprivation, so I went along eagerly. The experience was a..., well the expression which immediately sprang to my mind was eye-opener, which is inappropriate because the object of the exhibition is to give insight (oh dear another visually led word) into the lives of the blind. So revelation is the better word.

The darkness was absolute and the first exhibit was a reconstruction of a busy urban street. Used I was to walking around blind-fold, I found this terrifying. The traffic noise was threatening and I had no sense of direction. The small group of us, mostly strangers to each other, huddled very closely together. When one is blindfold in a peaceful outdoor environment, such as a large garden, one can find some idea of orientation from the direction of the wind, or the feel of the sun on one's face. Here our only guide was the white canes we had been issued with. 
The last exhibition space was much more congenial. As I felt my way along a wall, I discovered a gap, and groping around I felt and recognised, by touch, a drip tray. "It's a pub!" I exclaimed.
"Yes, it's a pub," said a voice in front of me, "would you like anything?" I bought a beer, paid for by sorting out cash by touch, and our small group, who after a very short time together in darkness, were no longer strangers but good friends, felt our way to a table and had a drink together. 
The most thought-provoking experience of the day came when I sat down in the cafe of the Royal Festival Hall to make notes. I found that try as I might, I could only remember my tour of the exhibition visually, although, I had, of course, seen nothing. This contributed, to an interesting theory of perception which I will share someday. 

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