Sensing Every Space - A Different Way of Seeing

Sensing Every Space is a journey round South Hill Park in 50 abstract paintings.






As soon as I received the call for artists email in September 2021 I knew that I wanted to create a series of digital paintings, to be displayed as a digital installation, accompanied by audio recordings and poetry exploring my Sense of Space at South Hill Park as a blind person.



Most people think that my life has shrunk and become miserably slow since becoming disabled. But the truth is that my life has become deeper, richer and more intense as I appreciate every moment and sense every space. My hope is that my installation will encourage people to stop and journey slower, as I have had to, as I've become disabled.



As a blind artist I paint digitally. I use the vision I have left, and my iPad with it's wonderful magnification, to see photographs, 1% at a time and in my mind build up a full picture. Then, in the same way, I can paint in tiny sections and hope that together they work as a painting.



I could have shown a series of these landscape paintings, but right from the start I wanted to try and express how I "sense" the grounds beyond what might be "seen". I wanted to invite people to gain an insight into how those of us with limited sight experience the world.


The installation invites you to see beyond the views you take for granted, that I took for granted when I could see as you see. It invites you to "sense" the spaces around you when you wander around the grounds at South Hill Park.


My aim is to give you some small insight into how those of us with limited sight experience the world. Instead of being able to identify a space at a glance, you will need to stop and journey slower, spending time wondering…


What can I see?

What can I hear?

How do I feel?


Where was this painting inspired?


In what season was this painted?


How does this painting make me feel, beyond what I can see?


And then, thinking about the installation as a whole…


Do any of these paintings stand out to me?

Why?

What about it am I drawn to?


And perhaps most importantly….

How might my experience of this installation change how I journey around spaces and view places?







As well as creating a piece of visual art, I wanted to make my installation as accessible as possible to people with visual impairments.


I always knew that the installation would be audible as well as visual. I recorded the sounds on my visits at South Hill Park and researched how art is audio described.


Long story short - hardly any art is audio described, less than 1% even in the major art galleries; and there's a lot of debate about how best to describe visual art.


With no manual to follow, I experimented with different ways of describing my paintings.


I started off by writing poetry about them….



Stilling busy thoughts

Journeying in the moment

Sensing every space


Space to begin

Space to connect

Space between

Space to relax

Space to hide

Space to seek

Space to journey

Space to lose yourself

Space to reflect

Space to observe

Space to slow down

Space to listen

Space to focus

Space to refresh

Space to explore

Space to wander

Space to wonder

Space to grow

Space to create

Space to be


As the summer ends

Colours indicate changes

Space for winter's rest


Time to take it slow

Notice minutiae of life

Nothing stays the same


Sun rays bring new warmth

Life notices, springing forth

Nature's new blessings


Space to follow

Space to notice

Space to hear

Space to reach

Space to water

Space to spring

Space to stop

Space to take flight

Space to move

Space to expand

Space to get lost

Space to question

Space to gather

Space to stretch

Space to float

Space to dream

Space to reroot

Space to sprout

Space to hear

Space to be me




Although this poem added something to the installation, it didn't adequately describe the visual aspect of the paintings, it didn't delve into the imagery.


My second attempt at audio description was to create pure descriptions of the paintings, but as abstract pieces this also missed the mark and almost obscured the sense I was trying to convey.


Eventually, with input from a few visually impaired friends, I settled on a middle ground which describes both the "look" of each painting and the sense I was exploring.


Here's are two examples


Painting 13

Space to focus

On the bridge my wheelchair rumbles

My sight, as little as it is, below the parapet.

My observation framed, focused by the bridge rails themselves.

The view of the lake enhanced not constrained.

Reflections glint as the ducks wonder, ponder whether we might feed them, they quack in request. I listen and watch, what catches my attention are the many blues as sky meets lake.






Painting number 24

Autumn Trees


Replacing the myriad greens are now myriad browns; from dark yellow through brown to black; each tree a different shade and yet within each tree, each leaf slightly different. Has a painter painted each element for our own entertainment? Beyond my sight I can smell the change, autumn has a scent all of its own. Is autumn really the end? Or is it a welcoming to a time of rest, before reawakening.


https://youtu.be/7Ntz-h8mmLQ



And so the installation of 50 abstract paintings accompanied by sounds recorded in the grounds and 50 audio descriptions accessed through a QR code was created.


Sensing every space

Journeying in the moment

Stilling busy thoughts






And then….. 3 days before the exhibition was being hung I had an idea!!


I was leading an art workshop for visually impaired people at Berkshire Vision and talking about the SHP exhibition when I was asked if ALL the exhibition would be audio described. I didn't know the answer to this question but suspected that none of the artists in the exhibition would provide audio descriptions of their art.


This is not a criticism of the artists who were exhibiting but merely an assumption based on the fact that almost no art exhibitions are ever audio described. Even permanent exhibitions in international galleries usually only have a few of their art works audio described.


It seemed like a crazy idea, but with only a few days to go before opening I sent Trish an email:


"Wouldn't it be amazing if there was a description for every piece of art.


I know that it's not something that many artists will have ever done, but hopefully something they'll be excited about. I would be very happy to help people write descriptions and I will record them."


I knew this was a crazy idea to suggest just before opening, but Trish seemed excited to explore the possibility. She wrote a wonderful description of one of her artworks, I recorded it and created an example we could share with Loucia and the RGA artists.


Loucia embraced the idea. The artists in this room embraced the idea and within 24 hours my email inbox was overflowing with descriptions. By the evening of the preview a quarter of the art had audio descriptions; by the opening Saturday almost half of the exhibition was fully accessible and they kept rolling in. Today we have 80% of the art in this exhibition audio described!


80%


There are no statistics for how many pieces of art in exhibitions are audio described, which is telling in itself, but even the major permanent exhibitions only ever ever have a few of their artworks audio described. What has been achieved in this exhibition is ground breaking.


What is even more exciting about this project is that the Sense of Place exhibition will forever be accessible to everyone as a series of videos on YouTube.


During the Covid pandemic it became normal to access art exhibitions, theatre plays and music concerts online. Much of this has stopped since the end of lockdown, yet there are many disabled, elderly and chronically ill people who remain locked down, who were locked down way before it became fashionable, these people, people like me are unable to visit art galleries due to access issues or illness.


By creating a playlist of videos with audio descriptions "Sense of Space" will be accessible for everyone to enjoy from home, wherever home may be, for months and years to come.





I'll say it again, what the RGA artists and South Hill Park have achieved in this exhibition is ground breaking. It is inspirational. As a visually impaired person I am overwhelmed with the generosity of the artists and your passion to make art accessible to all. Thank you.



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