Art of Woman

Touch - the best art installation you will never see!

Touch is an intimate sense we largely ignore in public. It can be dangerous to touch because of the risk being misunderstood. Watch a crowd in public and you’ll see that we very carefully avoid each other.

It is pushing boundaries to have an art exhibition that relays on touch - we may bump into another person unexpectedly, or trip and hurt ourselves, or break something. Welcome to the world of vision impaired people who have to deal with these issues every day!

On Wednesday evening, 2 July, I was invited by my friend, Leonie Pye, to the opening of Touch - an installation exhibition held at the Courtyard Studio, Canberra Theatre, Canberra. Touch is an initiative of Canberra Blind Society and Tuggeranong Arts Centre as part of Community Cultural Inclusion Project (CCIP) and facilitated by artist Tony Steel.

After the formalities of speeches and the usual mingling with friends, we were allotted into groups to go into the installation. What an exciting experience! We had to take our shoes off and put on hospital ‘booties’! We placed our belongings on a shelf (which was watched by a staff member), then we were blindfolded! Each group is allocated guides to aid us as we go through the installation. To find our way around, there is a rope on the floor that we feel with our feet. Each artwork is marked by a piece of carpet which we can feel with our feet, so we know to put out our hands to feel for the artwork.

It is quite disorienting to be blindfolded in a public place and to try to touch things. Experiencing the art by touch is new to me. So many galleries and exhibitions explicitly state ‘Do not touch’.

There were artworks on the walls, on the floor and suspended from the ceiling. Sometimes I walked into the art; slats of wood, strings of beads and pieces of textured cloth draped over me as I moved through the exhibit. Other times I had to reach out to touch the artworks or my feet crunched on autumn leaves, or sand or pebbles.

In my lack of experience with this type of ’seeing’, I found it hard to understand the ’story’ behind some of the pieces. Leonie’s artwork was an exception. She had a shell shape with a sand texture and a shell sculpture inside. When I put my head inside, I heard the sound of the ocean and I listened to Leonie reading from her children’s story, “The Little Shell”, complete with a blessing at the end. It was a beautiful immersive experience.

A little further on, I felt a shoe. Logically, as my hand traced over it, there was a foot inside and slacks. Further up there was a knee. At that point I wondered, “How far do I put my hand?” Do I reach up further? “Is this a man or a woman?” Then laughed to myself, I don’t really want to know! Although it was not a real person it was funny.

The exhibition had an amazing range of textures, shapes and contrasts including: soft and hard, hot and cold, wet and dry, stable and moveable. I could have explored for longer, but time didn’t permit. I’ll go again with another friend. The exhibition is on until 12 July 2014.

Leonie Pye and friends going into Touch exhibition_9914 sm