Running her hand along a black roll of fabric, Deng Kong wasn't quite sure what to make of it. "The first time I put my hand on this one...
Running her hand along a black roll of fabric, Deng Kong wasn’t quite sure what to make of it.
“The first time I put my hand on this one it felt like a person’s leg. And then the second time I came over it felt like tree trunks.”
Feeling the same material, Mark Adreon was captivated. “It was soft and you wanted to touch it and kind of get into it. … It’s very inviting and warm. … You do want to curl up on it, actually.”
Kong and Adreon have two things in common. They were both on the jury for an art show opening tomorrow at the University of Washington’s Jacob Lawrence Gallery. And they are both blind.
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You won’t find any velvet ropes, warning signs or vigilant docents keeping you away from the artwork at this exhibit. Not only is it OK to touch the pieces, it’s encouraged.
Even if you have sight, you might want to slip on a pair of blindfolds provided and run your hands, as Kong and Adreon did, along and into the black polyester-stuffed Lycra rolls and pink round puffs of “Sporadic” by Chad Downard.
Or slide your fingers across the glazed clay “Untitled Head” by Andrea Hull.
Or feel the buzz of small plastic fan blades on “Hive” by Ben Hirschkoff or the 16 cool, smooth faces that make up “Déjà Vu” by Susie Lee.
“Touching Art,” noon-4 p.m. tomorrow-July 2 (Tuesdays through Saturdays), Jacob Lawrence Gallery, School of Art, University of Washington. Presented with the Washington State Department of Services for the Blind. For more information, see www.dsb.wa.gov or call 206-685-1805.
Those four were judged best of the submissions in “Touching Art,” a collection of work by present and former UW art students designed to be appreciated by blind as well as sighted visitors.
The goal is to “put ‘blind’ and ‘art’ in the same sentence” and challenge the commonly held notion that art has no role in the lives of the blind, said Adreon, business-relations manager for the state Department of Services for the Blind, which is co-hosting the show with the UW School of Art.
“The empowerment approach here is to sort of de-victimize blind people and say, ‘Why not? You can appreciate art. Art should be part of your life,’ ” said Adreon, 50, who lost his sight eight years ago when an illness damaged his optic nerves.
The UW will show the pieces by a dozen student artists for two weeks. The top four, purchased by the Department of Services for the Blind for $500 apiece, will then be permanently displayed at the agency’s headquarters in South Seattle.
The idea for the exhibit stemmed from an observation by a client of the department, who noted that the office features work by blind and low-vision artists, but that those pieces, primarily photographs, can’t be appreciated by the blind people who pass by them every day.
Listen to Deng Kong and Mark Adreon discuss the “Touching Art” artwork and exhibit
Mark Adreon on how the blind experience art (:32, MP3)
Deng Kong on “Untitled Head” (:36, MP3)
Deng Kong on “Sporadic” (:20, MP3)
Mark Adreon on “Sporadic” (:31, MP3)
Adreon approached the UW School of Art with the idea of having student artists create work to be enjoyed by sighted and blind people.
“Art is part of our culture,” Adreon said. “It’s part of the historical, cultural expression. And blind people should be and should want to be part of all that.”
Timea Tihanyi, who teaches sculpture, helped spread the word among artists. “We saw it as an interesting opportunity and a challenge. For people who do sculpture, working with tactile materials and making artwork that is very physical is an important consideration.”
Each submission had to be something that could hang from a wall. The key limitation — taken from the Americans with Disabilities Act — was that the objects could be no more than four inches in depth, so that people walking by would not run into them.
Adreon, who has a long-standing appreciation of art and design, met with the participating artists and urged them not to just make objects that a blind person might identify, but ones that could be more complex and engaging.
“I told them the expression can go beyond, ‘Oh, this is a flower.’ It can actually say something like, ‘This is a tortured flower.’ “
An eight-member jury, including three members who are blind, selected the top works last week.
“Hive” is one of the more inventive creations. It’s a four-foot-wide bright yellow and orange panel of wood and wax in a honeycomb pattern. Scattered around the piece are 12 round indentations about the diameter of a golf ball. Behind those, small motorized fans are activated by a motion sensor, so a person who touches them feels the slight buzz of the fan’s turning blades.
“Untitled Head” is a smooth form of a human face made of clay coated with a liquid-glass glaze. Its creator, graduate student Andrea Hull, 29, said, “I really like the smoothness of the pieces and I hoped they would respond to that.”
Hull’s work was one of the favorites of Kong, 41, a customer-service representative at the Seattle Lighthouse for the Blind, which helped sponsor the show. She ran her fingers slowly down the piece, noting the high forehead and high cheekbones, the smooth skin, the detail in the ears and the fact that the lower lip seemed chapped.
Graduate art student Susie Lee, 32, made her piece, “Déjà Vu,” a bit of a puzzle. It includes 16 plaster-covered foam faces, projected at different depths and angles. Only the careful observer will note — by touch or sight — that for each face, there’s another one exactly like it.
Sighted people who choose to first “view” the objects while wearing blindfolds will gain an insight not just into the artwork but into the way blind people perceive the world around them, said Adreon.
“What happens when you lose one of your senses as an information source is you have to rely on your other senses that much more heavily,” he said. “You’re going to be forcing your mind to start reading that piece of artwork though your hands. It will take your mind into a place that is going to be way uncomfortable at first but the more a person would get into it … they’ll start feeling things they would have never noticed if they had just looked at the piece of artwork.”
The variety of pieces submitted by the UW students, including pieces in fabric, ceramics, metal, wood and other media, appeared to take full opportunity of the possibilities presented, but Adreon said he hopes this show is just a beginning.
“The idea here is to try to create some stimulation for some artists to say, ‘I’m going to try that.’ And challenge artists to actually develop this into a real art form so that that experience can grow and develop.”
Jack Broom: 206-464-2222 or firstname.lastname@example.org