My new favourite book for this project is More Than Meets the Eye: What Blindness Brings to Art by Georgina Kleege (2018).The picture shows Kleege at an exhibition she recently curated (Wilson, 2018). I’ve already listed Kleege as one of the visually impaired writers, curators or artists who I’m influenced by. The very title of Kleege’s latest book would be an apt title for my research, which investigates what assets blind and partially sighted people bring to art galleries and the appreciation of art.
In the introduction, Kleege sets out her own position:
Rather, the hope is that blind people can bring a perspective that has not been articulated before. If we abandon the notion that blindness can only diminish, damage or destroy identity, and adopt instead the idea that the experience of blindness, in all its varieties, can in fact shape and inform other facets of personality and personal history, we will move towards a more genuinely inclusive society. The integration of blind perceptions and experiences will change the foundational assumptions of the culture; change how the human condition is defined. And I believe this is the goal worth working toward. (2018, p. 13)
From this position, Kleege calls for a rethinking of the accommodations made for blind and partially sighted people in galleries. I’m particularly struck by her critique of audio description, and her call ‘to abandon the pretext of objectivity. It is impossible and beside the point’ (2018, p. 121). I’ll pass this on to the describers in my curated event.
In tune with the blind and partially sighted people I’ve been talking to in Leeds Art Gallery, Kleege wants an end to segregated provision, such as touch tours, in galleries and museums. Apart from the problematic nature of segregation, this needs to happen because perceiving art using non-visual senses is a way of opening up access and engagement with art and heritage for everyone, not just disabled people. And this isn’t just Kleege’s opinion, of course. I’ve already mentioned Candlin’s writing on touch that argues for recognition of touch as a way of understanding and learning, that supports intellectual enquiry (Candlin, 2010).
A final word from Kleege:
I hope that audio description can be elevated from its current status as a segregated accommodation outside the general public’s awareness and launched into the new media – a literary / interpretative form with infinite possibilities. (2018, p. 108).
Candlin, F. (2010) Art, Museums and Touch. Manchester: Manchester University Press.
Kleege, G. (2018) More Than Meets the Eye: What Blindness Brings to Art. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Wilson, E. (2018) ‘How a Blind Professor Is Helping Other Sight-Impaired Museum Visitors Experience Art’, HyperAllergic 17 January. Available at: https://hyperallergic.com/421929/haptic-encounters-contemporary-jewish-museum-san-francisco/ (Accessed: 3 May 2018).