[Art_beyond_sight_educators] The Question

Lisa Yayla Lisa.Yayla at statped.no
Wed Nov 17 15:02:10 UTC 2010

Excerpt from an article in Philosophy Now
The Question


... Maria Oshodi, Artistic Director of Extant, Britain's only company for visually-impaired theatre professionals, has spent the last ten years experimenting with techniques to give blind and sighted people as similar an experience of theatre as possible. Her stimulating and comic Effing & Blinding! Cabaret, performed in complete darkness last year, demonstrated that blind actors have an acute grasp of spatial awareness which enables them to deliver immersive theatre that can be enjoyed by all.

... Oshodi's latest venture, The Question, was partly instigated by the Magee/Milligan dialogues, as well as by ideas from physicists Kent Cullers and Richard Feynman, and writers Kim Stanley Robinson and Simon Hayhoe. This 'research project' was presented at Battersea Arts Centre, South London, June 14-19, and was funded by the Technology Strategy Board. It aimed to explore the artistic and commercial applications of tactile feedback technology using haptics. Haptic technology interfaces with the user through the sense of touch (haptic = touch).

The Question followed the thoughts of a blind scientist struggling with scientific, philosophical and cultural questions concerning the relationship between sensory perception and knowledge. Entering into a dark space, both sighted and blind audience members were equipped with a set of wireless headphones and a 'Haptic Lotus' (see picture). This robotic device strapped to one hand was programmed as a navigational aid, to guide the user to four installation zones within the theatre. The device's lotus flowers blossomed more the nearer the user came to each zone, and closed again as the user moved away. Participants could then make a tactile exploration of each zone's set whilst listening to a recorded soundtrack. The Question vividly audially dramatised Milligan and Magee's argument about the status of sensory perception through a mix of voices, music and sound effects, including birdsong, cries of newborn babies, footsteps, heartbeats and traffic. The whole provided an aural level playing field where blind and sighted people could have not just a blind person's experience of the physical world, but simultaneously an aesthetic dreamlike impression of the inner landscape of the mind and its chattering dialogue with itself.

The soundtrack of The Question's philosophical zone certainly did justice to Schopenhauer's idea that a particular form of knowledge beyond words he called 'knowledge of the sublime' is best articulated by art - or as the young Wittgenstein averred, "significance can be presented but not stated." Here the voices of Milligan and Magee mixed in a heady swirl of interjections from Isaac Newton and John Locke. Locke, the first of the British empiricists, maintained that our senses provided the source of all our ideas and knowledge, dividing our ideas into simple ideas of sense andcomplex ideas of reflection. An added Socratic layer of dramatic intrigue was achieved by an actor wandering through the space and questioning everybody.


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