Close your eyes… Then try to read this…
For an hour and a half today I was submerged into absolute darkness at the invisible exhibition, where all of us (a total of six) got to ‘see’ the every day objects without using the sense upon which most of us rely the most – eyesight.
The very first realization when darkness became absolute was that I had no idea where I am in space, how big that space was, how far were the walls and which way was which way. Luckily, we had a guide, who navigated us with his voice and sometimes caught the lost ones by the hand. How he was able to determine our positions relative to the space and things in it simply by the sound of our voices escapes my understanding even though he had a few years to practice – he lost his sight about six years ago.
We were lead through a few rooms – the entry/hallway, the living room, the kitchen, the shower room and the balcony. We were trying to recognize familiar objects by the touch – some were easy to guess, others harder. Recognizing objects became a matter of matching shape, estimated guess of the material used and the specific room where it was found. There were clothes, hangers, drawers, books, toys, lamps, pots, heaters, blow-dryers, fridge, microwave, even a fax and a TV to identify. The old-school meat mincer in the kitchen was a hit :). Even with the walls to guide us and with objects in space, however, it was nearly impossible to figure out where we just came from and which direction we were moving to. Sometimes we would lay the hands upon someone else instead, but then they just would say ‘opsie, I’m not an exhibit :)’.
We were proceeding relatively slowly, which is probably why there were no major collisions. Still, every so often we bumped into chairs or other furniture/objects and ‘fingered’ one another. Imagine having to move around in pitch blackness at a speed comparable to normal though!
Then we ventured into ‘the city’ – a room with, among other things, a couple of street signs, a pub, a bicycle, a scooter and even a Tarabant car! There was also a barn with a grill, a bunch of different antlers, animal skins and even an ax. We then crossed a bridge that seemed to go somewhere up and then right and ended up at the ‘art gallery’ part with several statues to identify. Of course the very first one I stumbled upon was some naked guy – I’m guessing one of those athlete or ancient gods depictions (by the way I initially identified him as a guy NOT by what you may have thought of) – but then there were also a Greek goddess of fortune, a Bambi, a gnome, a dog and a globe of the Earth. Presumably there were two African masks as well but even though I stumbled upon one I would never have guessed what it was.
We ended up in a ‘bar’. There, we could order some soft drinks or coffee, see how it is to pay without seeing the money, and ask additional questions.
Our guide told us that there is actually no way to identify the banknotes by the Braille markings or any other relief features. First of all, those are only easy to feel on the new banknotes, and even then it’s tricky. Predominantly paper money can be told apart by the banknote length, while coins by size, cut, weight and other features that are easier to touch than paper markings. Working on a computer is enabled via voice software.
Everything else was a matter of experience and getting used to, as well as devising tools that could make this task easier. There are, for instance, money clips with a measure grid to tell the banknotes by length; clips for the socks to keep them paired even while washing, or a little ceramic plate to drop into the pot that would begin to rattle when the water starts to boil to inform of that. The city public transport, apparently, is pretty well equipped for the sightless. There even exist devices that, upon pressing a button, can communicate with the computer aboard the vehicle and tell aloud what number of the bus/tram it is, in case there is no one to ask outside.
However, he also told us that to this day people at times treat those who lost eyesight with disrespect, swear at them or deliberately obstruct their way. I think one of the main benefits of such an exhibition is realizing how incredibly hard it is to navigate and do the ‘easiest daily errands’ without seeing anything at all… If those rude people would have come to experience this, it might in an hour give them more insight and compassion than talking to them may in years…
Just how hard the most regular things can be to accomplish in darkness, however, became most evident after the end of the dark part of the exhibition. Inside, we had a guide and in the end we could always ask what something was. Outside there were tables with some of those helping tools, as well as some tables with games and puzzles. Some puzzles were 3D wooden ones – a wooden frame with indented overall shape contained 4 or 5 segments, cut out irregularly. It is a matter of 2 seconds to assemble such a ‘puzzle’ whilst looking at it. With the eyes blindfolded, however, it turns into a daunting task that takes at least 10 minutes!
If you have a similar exhibition in your proximity, definitely take the chance to go – experiencing the world in pitch black will be both fun and rewarding – especially when you come to the end of the exhibition and begin to see once again. It is indeed possible to appreciate something more once it had been lost, even though for (luckily) just one hour.