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In Touch with Art - disability arts online
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Siegfried Saerberg from ‘Blinde und Kunst’ gives a poetic description of his tactile exploration of a work of art / 6 October 2010

There are many barriers for blind people in museums when they want to touch the exhibits. Touch is said to spoil or damage the works of art through chemical pollution and extractions of the skin. However, not all objects that could be touched are being made available for meaningful touching.

Very few works of art are allowed for touching and often only by using handling gloves. ‘Blinde und Kunst’ (Blind People and Art), deploy all the senses: smell, touch and sound. I view cognitive investigation as a sensual pleasure and an act of creation.

Almost hovering, my hands glide through the air. First, it remains completely open where my skin will make contact with land. Where does elastic air turn into a coast which has been cast into the firm shape of matter? Which hand will be the first to touch the shore? Will there be a rocky coast or a sandy beach?

My hand and my fingers withdraw a bit, form a circular arc. Their back is turned upwards. Thus, in rapt anticipation, they fly through their cosmos. But although they are tense, this tension leaves a downward opening which, from its inner concavity, waits for a meeting with that which is alien.

And then, at some point, the time has come. Suddenly air turns into firm matter. Finally, the fingers are free. One hand calls out to the other, "Come here!" They meet and fan out into different directions. The hands have gone ashore and start to travel through landscapes.

My hands stroke the substantial matter. Matter, formed through natural strength from time immemorial, then, for a second time, shaped by the artist with imaginative power, and ever-pulsing life, meet.

Stone and flesh touch each other with their respective auras. Cold matter against warm matter, firm against soft. I ask: Who are you, stone?

Then I want to find out which message is held inside the stone for me. At first, I "carefully" feel my way around the stone to gauge its size and shape. Hands and fingers engage in an animated correspondence. Cautiously, I slowly feel my way forward. Hollows, hills, reefs, plains, ravines, holes, mountaintops, thickets. Hands and fingers and a heavy tongue connect the many small elevations and drops to form shapes.

Sometimes the art object proves unruly. It takes on an attitude of resisting reluctance. Its fur is rough and coarse. Its material meets me with coldness and rejection. Its surface asserts its position, sharp and angular.

Sometimes the art object is also friendly, its own self still run through by its memory of life. Driftwood, floating on icy waves, that can be reanimated. The soft, smooth warmth of a gentle wood-skinned core. The touching hand gives warmth and life and in the rhythm of its movements the hands rise above themselves, grow.

All the time, my fingers keep shaping new words. My imagination keeps coming up with new interpretations for the stone until I have pieced together a mosaic, made of myself and the sculpture. The names formed by the hands try to speak their own language. Bubbling at first, they endeavour to grasp their new continent.

Bow-shaped – double-spanned – shooting upwards – lifted forwards – three-hollowed – flowing to an end. Finiteness grasping for the void.