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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.

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