I’m a visually impaired mixed and multimedia artist working with Sense to support people with sensory impairments to produce art for a brand new disability arts festival called Sensibility, happening this Friday, 18 May.
Through art, I want to elevate the importance of all of the senses. I myself, exhibit my artworks nationally and internationally, but I also work on making more accessible sensory and tactile works, and smaller sculptures too.
The Sensibility arts project and festival
I was really interested in working on the Sense Arts project, called Sensibility, because as a visually impaired artist, I thought I could give a different approach to working with deafblind participants.
I wanted to realise their artistic talents. And instead of judging them on a sighted and hearing level, explore their own unique perspective of the world, giving them the freedom and space to explore new boundaries.
During the Sensibility project, I’ve adapted my working practice by relaxing into the workshops and letting the participants go with the flow, rather than feeling too precious about every element.
The participants have their own unique way of working, which produces unusual artistic elements, which will all work brilliantly at the Sensibility Festival this Friday, 18 May, an event showcasing the works produced by this collaborative project.
Working with people with communication needs
I’ve continued to give the participants the number one position in my thoughts at all times. I’m assisting them to reach new goals and achievements. As an outsider, I have the unique perspective of not judging from past experiences of what they can and can’t do, so I let them have the time and space to stretch their abilities.
I find working with the participants so rewarding, especially when a participant starts to do an activity by themselves independently for the first time. It might only be a tiny element like plaiting materials together, but the excitement given out from the participants in body language and verbal articulations is wonderful to behold.
The hardest two elements of providing the workshops, is working around the communication needs and peoples preconceived ideas of what the participants can and can’t undertake.
As a visually impaired artist, I found new ways to connect and communicate
Being visually impaired myself with little British Sign Language (BSL), meant I was reliant on interpreters passing on information and communicating back to me verbally if there were questions or issues. It is difficult to reach the participants genuine mood/feelings. I tended to primarily work on whether their body language and articulations indicated if they were enjoying an activity. Likewise you could use the technique to observe whether the activity didn’t work for a participant.
Allowing the participants to work by themselves was sometimes tricky because of the support workers familiarity (where they might not stretch the participant into doing an activity independently but might want to assist a bit too much). This comes from good intentions, but doesn’t help people find new skills and talents.
Creativity is one of the ways participants can show their true personalities. Giving them the opportunity to work with new and exciting materials in ways they haven’t done before, helps to give them the idea that they can explore the world around them. Creativity gives them time to be!
Some of our participants were artistically highly skilled. Others did very little independently.
Different personalities create different art
One of our participants with encouragement over a number of weeks started to use the processes in the workshops on her own terms – independently, or sometimes, semi-independently, stitching tapestry sheets and plaiting, rather than someone moving her hands for her all the time.
I discovered this participant really enjoyed the repetitive actions she had learnt, and would be quite happy to continue by herself once you had shown her the task. The joy from her body language and articulations put a huge smile on my face.
As a mixed and multimedia artist, I’m always thinking of what can enhance our lives. We don’t live in isolation. If we are walking down the street we appreciate the surface underfoot, the smell of different shops, the bleeping of a road crossing, the warmth of the sun on our skin, the sweet smell of flowers in the garden, etc. This rich tapestry allows us to perhaps know where we are, but also, why the world is so exciting.
I think the biggest impact from the festival will be everyone appreciating their senses more. How our lives are made up of lots of elements we are picking up from all our senses, but half the time we are rushing about so much that we don’t appreciate what is there. The festival is a celebration of possibilities.
On a personal level I’d like these possibilities to be continued for the participants, so they can continue to do more unusual and challenging happenings/events that will enrich their and our lives alike.
The Sensibility Festival takes place this Friday, 18 May – Sunday 20 May.
Events will happen at both Sense’s TouchBase Pears venue and Midlands Arts Centre venue.
Free transportation between venues will be provided, but need pre-booking.
Find out more and purchase tickets on the TouchBase Pears website.