Seeing art through touch 

Artwork for visually impaired makes an appearance from 17 regional artists.

click to enlarge Visitors can use a sleep mask to simulate visual impairment
  • Visitors can use a sleep mask to simulate visual impairment

The reVISION exhibition, is an art gallery with a twist: the visitors not touching the artwork are doing it wrong.

Created for, and by, people with visual impairment, reVISION is billed as "a tactile, auditory, and spatial experience” in lieu of a traditional space where patrons keep a safe distance. The gallery was the brainchild of Meredith Howell, who wanted to make the art world more accessible for her daughter Lola, a five year old with significant vision loss. The Visually Impaired Preschool Services (VIPS), which extended an invitation for artists to submit their work, is located in the Indiana Interchurch Center (IIC).

Howell was inspired while looking over the traditional 2D pieces in the IIC gallery. She wondered, “how Lola could experience the art... without being able to touch it?”

Howell looked over several case studies of visually impaired museum patrons who all said that they didn’t feel included. With help from a team of curators and the AccessIndy program, Meredith put out a call for art submissions, with the added stipulation that the works on display will be touched. Several organizations working for accessibility in the arts picked up the call for submissions, and the work of 17 regional artists were chosen for display. The show will also feature submissions from the students at the Indiana School for the Blind and Visually Impaired.

One of the artists on display is Jennifer Qian, a lifelong artist who was born deaf, receiving cochlear implants at the age of four. She was mentored by her grandfather, a painter who travelled China and Mongolia to pursue his interests, and credits him as well as her unique perspective for inspiring her.

"I am confident that I would not been as insightful or passionate about life and art if I was born with my hearing," says Qian.

Her work covers a wide range, from 2D mixed media pieces to her master's thesis show, a series of interactive clay sculptures meant to re-contextualize the concept of sound.

click to enlarge img_7993.jpg

"Sighted visitors will have an opportunity to experience the art in a way they are not accustomed to,” says Qian.

Howell explained that visitors will encounter a wide range of materials: plaster, wood, ceramic, fleece, yarn, ribbon, woven textiles, clay, tactile paint and more.

At the entrance, guests have the option of taking a sleep mask to simulate visual impairment. The gallery itself features a remarkable range of art, but with the application of the sleep mask, patrons have the ability to experience the same exhibit in a second context. Having seen each piece before applying my sleep mask, I was caught off guard by actually touching the elements I had previously taken for granted. The sudden slickness of a cowboy boot on a rough leg, the scratchy outline of a roof and even the spokes of a tire are rendered alien and new in context. I had more than a few moments of pause, brought on by the temporary removal of a single sense.

The goal of the exhibit, according to Howell, is to let "visitors who are blind or visually impaired to know there is a strong push to include them.” She wants to begin a movement where blind patrons aren't inhibited by their sensory loss, ultimately making "inclusion the norm” provoking visitors to have real conversations and interactions.

On the way out, I overheard a woman offering to read braille to a patron wearing a sleep mask as she ran her fingers across an information display. I would say that the gallery is well on its way to achieving its goal.

Howell has already been asked to bring the reVISION exhibit back to the IIC in 2017.

through February 26
Indiana Interchurch Center Art Gallery is located at 1100 W. 42nd Street.
FREE, weekdays from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.


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