McIntosh Gallery focuses in on Blind Culture

Tuesday, April 7th, 2009

Inflatable Baby exhibit

I'M FEELING A LITTLE BLOATED. Max Streicher's display "Big Babies" is being showcased in McIntosh Gallery's latest exhibit, "A Sense of Space: The Blind Culture."

If someone’s laughing but no one’s around to hear it, can you still call it art? The McIntosh Gallery thinks so.

Its new exhibit that opened this month, “A Sense of Space: The Blind Culture,” encourages visitors to touch, look at, smell and hear the sensory artwork created by Canadian, American and British artists.

Western is the second and final stop for the travelling exhibit, which originally opened at the Glenhyrst Art Gallery of Brant in Brantford.

One piece, Nicola Green’s “The Laughing Record,” is a small black CD player with masking tape directing people to press play. When they do, the room fills with eight minutes of recorded laughter from people of different age groups, cultures and continents.

A small sign next to the player explains how the artist hopes to capture identity through laughter. The disc continues to play, even if people have left the room.

The rest of the pieces are equally offbeat, but that’s part of the reason they were picked for the show, the gallery’s curator Catherine Elliot Shaw says.

By engaging with the art through their senses, people can respond to the works in a non-visual way, which is not typical for a gallery. “It’s an opportunity for our audiences to learn in a number of different ways,” Shaw says.

The exhibit is especially appealing for blind people because they can use their other senses to experience the art, such as by smelling the wooden sculptures and reading Braille that’s etched on some of the works.

For example, Ryan Lotecki’s “Stained Glass Windows” has quotations by poets about blind love written in Braille on four square glass panels, so only those who can read Braille can decipher the poetry.

“Public galleries today are becoming increasingly sensitive and aware of their audiences,” Shaw adds.

Erika James’ “Big Toys” is hard to miss. It’s a series of brightly-coloured objects of odd shapes and textures with bells and hard-metal rods sewn inside them. One of them resembles a snowman with dreadlocks, while another hangs from the ceiling and looks like an amoeba punching bag.

The pieces drew the interest of science student Daron Ross. “There are metal rods inside, but it looks like a toy,” Ross says. “I wouldn’t have expected [it] to feel as it does.”

Another piece that catches the eye is Max Streicher’s “Big Babies,” in which two inflatable, nylon babies lying on their backs take up the entire second room of the exhibit.

A few of the artists are visually impaired, including Meg Lauder. She created a series of about 10 eye patches with different objects glued to them for visitors to touch and try on.

For example, one is attached to a fake, silky butterfly sitting atop a short stick. Another one has a squishy plastic, neon yellow oval on it that’s covered with little yellow arms and miniature googly eyes.

The entire show encourages visitors to consider new ways of seeing. Jennifer Ann Wanner, a master of fine arts student, believes it’s an interesting concept.

“It’s making me think about how people who don’t have their sight use a museum,” she says.

Wanner, who paints with watercolours, says she’s still hesitant to touch the art because she was always told not to. But interactive art tends to draw people in, she adds.

“It’s breaking down convention. [People] are spending more time with the pieces than they would if they just used one sense.”

“A Sense of Space: The Blind Culture” is on display at the McIntosh Gallery until April 6.

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