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Thursday, 12 August 2010

'Blind Week' Part One - A Surreal Landscape

'Blind Week’ – A chapter from ‘The Unseen Perspective’ B.A Dissertation by Naomi Kendrick, 1999. (Abridged version)

‘Blind Week’ is the loose title I gave to my experiment, my very own temporary insight into ‘not seeing’, this period of time, one Monday through to Sunday was to be a vital part of my research. I was aware that, being temporary, it could never allow a true experience of living without sight. I also knew that I would not be existing in total darkness, as the vision I would select needed to be representational, and for the majority of blind and partially sighted people complete darkness, in the physical sense at least is a myth.

The first step was to select my new lesser vision, and to check that the experiment would leave no lasting damage to my eyes. For this I sought the opinion of an eye specialist, Colin Peet, who sorted through my selection of adapted glasses (used in occupational therapy) that emulate different types of eye disorders. Colin’s main concerns were my mental stability and that no part of my eye should actually be blocked from light, which would effect the latter and make my eyes light sensitive upon removing the glasses. Sever cataracts were selected as my condition; something that often occurs later in life and can now be treated with lasers. Their effect is like staring through a layer of frosted glass.

The environment I would be exploring was my family home in Portsmouth.

Monday was about hanging on to vision; it was a novelty as if watching a film of incredible abstract imagery. Revelling in new vision as the glasses went on, I ventured into the garden and proceeded to record (on tape) what I was saying. I spoke quite dreamily in keeping with the slow pace at which I noticed parts of my new world, reminding me of Stephen Kuusisto’s writing in ‘Planet of the Blind’. Kuusisto’s story is rich in voices – “I listen like a person telephoning in the dark” (Mail on Sunday)

Light was the first to hit and overwhelm me outside, and would continue to dominate throughout the week. Outdoors light influenced everything, even on this overcast day it held a brilliant glare, the glare was widespread and heavy, not the direct rays of the sun, just an overall whiteness. Light has the ability to colour and bring life to our world, but the brilliance of today uncoloured it. Surrounding me was what I described as “nothing colour”, a murky blue, black, grey, green that was only broken by something vivid, that’s own brightness had the capability to fight back the glare, such as a red bench or the florescent plastic green of a watering can. It was only because I knew the landscape that I could determine the boundaries between a shadow, a hole or a ‘nothing coloured’ object.

Landscape is particularly difficult to read because, to begin with, it holds few contrasts in colour and form, and now one of it’s central characteristics, depth, had also been removed. Details, marks, and patterns that only a few months ago I had scrutinised and drawn, vanished. What was left was somewhere in between an impressionists painting and a child’s drawing, simplified to its bare essentials, its presence remained, giving awareness to t’s main features, but with the giant dirty smudge across it there seemed little of it’s character. This surreal alternative to the garden I grew up in was a pleasant one.

Inside the house things grew closer. The glare is pale in comparison to outsides intensity, but the light that does come in spreads around the boundaries of each window as if I were squinting at a candle to make it’s rays shoot further. Accompanying the light is a tinge of the purpled ‘nothing colour’ from outside. It would not be until night that inside became dramatically changed by light.

During my first day patterns emerged which tell me how I was both physically and mentally rejecting my new vision. The physical symptom was sleep, for hours that day without feeling a great need for it, I fell into unconsciousness. The reason was my suspension in this surreal dreamy place where reality became tainted with qualities associated with the unconscious. To be awake is to have clarity, to belong to the external, here confused I simply slept.

I began to ask myself if I was feeling the situatuation right. What should I draw? And how should I draw it? Battling with myself I wondered if I drew the yellow blur in front of me in the garden do I draw what I know to be a yellow flower? Or do I draw the fuzzy blur, which would require methods and tools to achieve the fuzz that would be taking from visual knowledge? The fact that I immediately needed to respond to something visual is understandable. I wished to express a new visual world. However the irony of my line of questioning is that whilst searching for the ‘something’ that exists where vision doesn’t’ it was vision that I clung, unaware and stubbornly too.

Towards the end of the day I decided the solution to my problem would be to obscure my vision further. Therefore with eyes shut, I waited as my dad applied two layers of opaque plastic to my ‘frosted window’ glasses. Everything I could see before was halved in its intensity (except light which grew stronger) I wondered if this was necessary, even in total darkness I have the ability to ‘see’ through memory. But as the week progressed determination pushed me further from the boundaries of my ‘type’ (visual).

As night fell my house transformed before me, shapes held little meaning, and artificial light opened new avenues. Each room’s function and potential comfort became irrelevant, they became spaces that either pulled me in or pushed me away. The kitchen, with its green-yellow florescent light evolved into a million associations hospital, school, dentist, morgue, and a place I had to avoid. By contrast the dining room with its berry red carpet, tablecloth and chair covers became insides, reminiscent of television documentaries on the human body, with skin coloured soft lighting as a guide. It evolved into a welcoming, although slightly creepy source of fascination and interaction. As time passed this space developed a sense of movement, my mind automatically sought boundaries, tried to make out the different objects, and as each shape became recognisable to me, it pulled itself out of the surging red mass and revealed itself to be, for example, a chair. Simultaneously the table grew out of the carpet exposing itself as a table, and my hands, when placed on the carpet, sunk and merged with the rest of the fleshy tones in the body/room.

Walking into a room at night before switching the light on is an everyday occurrence, darkness was not disturbing. Only when I turned the light on and clarity failed to reveal itself did I feel threatened.

'Blind Week' Part Two - Drawing From The Inside

Henri Michaux, engraving, 1956

‘Blind Week’ – A chapter from ‘The Unseen Perspective’ B.A Dissertation by Naomi Kendrick, 1999. (Abridged version)

On my second day I woke, and did not have time to panic with the realisation that my sight had changed, because my head was full of the dream I had had that night. What stood out the most was it’s vividness and my ability to remember and picture every detail, it was brimming with colour, blue/purple sandals, luminous pink prawns and the whole story of it stayed with me throughout the day, playing over and over in my head.

I continued to have, and most importantly remember vivid dreams like this throughout the week. I felt as if because during the day I did not have the means to form new clear visual memories, my subconscious would give me the clarity I yearned for, in my sleep. I began to hallucinate, my eyes, or rather my mind would play tricks on me, testing the trust I put in sight. A group of shadows by the television became a giant teddy bear, a tree, or shadow of a tree at the window became a figure, staring at me. These two examples highlight the playfulness and the fear that those moments brought. Obviously if I think clearly I know these images are shadows and my mind is creating the rest but when sighted I would be able to re focus, shake my head and certify this instinct without that ability, I am nearly convinced but still left uneasy by the potential danger this holds.

As my mind continued to take from within rather than without, I had a sense that the physical me was fading, my actual presence within the space around me would increasingly become as blurred as my vision. This feeling was enhanced further by another trip outside, where without depth it was hard to retain the perspective of myself, a small being within the expanse of the natural world.

I began drawing from my dreams, from images remembered in books I had read, and from touch, here I found disappointment, restricted by space, not being able to find the right tools and not having the opportunity to be ‘messy’. My enthusiasm soon dwindled; the ‘act’ of drawing had always been a huge source of inspiration. I felt it was also the main satisfaction gained from the work I did, but here my ‘act’ was restricted. Looking back my only reason for continuing was knowing in a week I could see the results. To keep interest my process needed to be frenzied, powerful, close to dance even. As I drew through touch and I drew my dreams, my mind raced with images of a huge room where each wall is my paper, pots of thick gloopy paint lay at my feet ready to slide across the walls, pushed by me. A frenzied attack where I was not loosing tools, being tight, playing safe and with each mark following patterns of what I already know, being dictated by the result, a result which I could not even see.

I had become stuck in the ‘grey area’ caught between the clarity of a visual world, and a world where the clarification can come from sound, touch smell and taste letting vision take a back seat just as we do to our other senses for the majority of out time. I was in a confused state of ‘not seeing’ unable to take the steps to learn hapticaly.

During day four, I put growing intentions of drawing sound (specifically music) into practice. There was a release in responding to the music, because although the drawings themselves longed to be produced in the huge room with sliding paint that I had been fantasising about, the process of responding successfully meant that I listened intently. I have never heard music in the same way since that week because as well as creative freedom, it brought relief to a dominating factor of my ‘blindness’ which was sheer boredom, and now my vague world in the ‘grey area’ had suddenly found something solid and very clear to hold on to.

Music for me, is a space, consisting of layers and movement, of a collection of sounds weaving in and out of a two or three minute time span. My response felt feeble in comparison to what I felt, listening as I did that day was a physical experience soaring violins swept through me in surges. Here I regained faith in the ‘act’, and in retrospect see the drawings as a memory or record of that act.

I could picture layers of lines, squiggles and rhythms but it wasn’t a clear conscious picturing. When learning to dance or hearing others talking of dance steps, boxes and squares are mentioned in reference to what you do with your feet. Although we do not dance looking at our feet we are feeling out these shapes and reputations in a similarly controlled and unconscious way, driven by the music.

With my eyes shut (as they often were to enable me to give full concentration to music or television) a re-occurring image would appear behind my eyes it was the colour of my eyelids, from the inside, with browns and deeper reds in it, a round shape would grow out of nothing it would have a rippling surface like water, that became still revealing objects beneath which were either reds and strawberry like, pebbly, or cells when you look through a microscope that move, swelling up and down a little. I could keep this image there for a while, but it was not as if I were picturing something in my mind, I was looking at this but my eyes were shut, I felt as if I were seeing inside myself. The light patterns and shapes would float in and out of my vision with eyes both open and shut until the end of the week, only as moments, seconds long, easily forgotten, but they were beautiful.

The easiest method of describing this, the peak of my inward journey, is through the words and images of another. Henri Michaux was a man who through many creative processes, searched for his ‘self’, and this is what, without at first knowing, my experiment ahd been, a self discovery to learn of my own company to exist not in the eyes of others, or even my own, but within the confines of my mind, where the exterior had drifted away. Late in Michaux’s carreer he decided to experiment with mescaline (LSD) and to record in words and images what he found. His images struck me, although they could not have mirrored my own. Their content holds a close affinity with the internal landscape I discovered. Each drawing is organic, with a simple rhythm that repeats and graduates as if in movement, minute scribbly marks that build into layers like diagrams of skin. A complexity, intricacy, and connection with language that makes me feel they could be a year’s record of one persons obsessive, unconscious doodling packed on one small piece of paper. They are like my visions, at once the surface of a planet, an ariel view of land, the insides of a body (from large to microscopic) the bark of a tree, earth, everything natural but at the same time foreign, undiscovered.

The complications Michaux experienced when representing his experiences with mescaline are also close to my own when drawing music. ‘The present drawings are, need I say, reconstructions. A hand two hundred times more agile than the human hand would not be up to the task of following the speedy course of the inexhaustible spectacle’ This world is another consciousness a place that exists in all, inducing it is a simple matter of not looking, in my case not seeing.

To find those things resting beneath my real awareness, I had to consciously turn away from my reality, my way of being, which was visual; it happens that Michaux’s reality disappeared through drugs. At the end of my week, to think clearly was not to see clarity; to sleep was not about closing my eyes, to hear was not to open my ears but to shut my eyes. My functions were not physical reactions they were mental decisions. I was seeing more now than ever and the majority of it existed when my eyes were closed. I would have to decide if I was closing them to sleep, to watch what happened behind them, to draw or to listen.