Tag Archives: blindness

Dialogue in the Dark

23 Sep

As an exhibition developer, I’ve often been asked which has been one of my favorite exhibitions. Few exhibitions have left such a lasting impression on me as the one I couldn’t see.

I didn’t see “Dialogue in the Dark” on a late summer’s day in 1997. As I entered the exhibition boat docked at the Amsterdam harbor, I was thrown from bright sunshine into complete darkness. A voice out of the black introduced its owner: “I am blind and today I am your guide to my world”.

Amidst nervous giggling, stumbling about and bumping against each other, our guide proceeded to lead us through a world devoid of visual stimuli. Disorientation does not begin to describe this unique experience of suddenly being robbed of your major sensory organ. The silly giggling soon gave way to feelings of dizziness, light nausea and wholehearted fascination. We were taken down corridors and into different rooms, asked to touch and identify different objects, to describe the space we were in, and how the objects in it were placed, relative to one another. Things I touched did not make sense at first, as my brain struggled with the unfamiliar task of having to piece together discrete touch sensations, felt consecutively, in order to identify the whole: something our brain normally takes in at a single glance.

We were led into a busy street, where the noise of cars whooshing by, of bicycle bells ringing and car horns honking left me feeling insecure and apprehensive. Would the noises have sounded as threatening and as loud if I could see? There were other sounds I couldn’t easily place without clues from our guide. I realized then how much sight contributes to how and what we hear. Another strange sensation was how often I was mistaken in locating the direction sounds were coming from. During our stroll in the park (birds chirping, dogs playfully barking in the distance) I could have sworn that the sound of water clattering onto marble stones came from my left. I was dead wrong. But what personally surprised me the most was the smell illusions I was having while immersed in this world of darkness. I smelt car exhaust in the busy street; I smelt flowers in the park; I smelt the distinct odor of fresh water clattering to the ground… It was as if my senses were ganging up to compensate for the one I had left behind, with no regard for a reality check.

Towards the end of this tour, all of us were exhausted and in dire need of a drink. Our guide thankfully brought us to a bar (pitch black, of course), where we had to fumble for our wallets and the right coins to pay for our drinks, let alone make sure our fingers didn’t mislead us in counting back the change – for those who only had paper bills. On our way out, we were invited to write a text on a Braille typewriter and take it home, as a memento of this extraordinary exploration of life without light.

Dialogue in the Dark is still successfully touring the world. I highly recommend it.


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