Monday, April 07, 2008
Letter on the Blind / For the Use of Those Who See
Six blind people walk into the empty McCarren Park pool in Brooklyn, waiting their turn to touch an elephant and describe it for the camera. The artist is Javier Tellez, a New York resident born in Venezuela, and it's a contemporary take in black and white video on the Indian fable of the blind men and the elephant, but it turned out to be more captivating than I imagined when I first sat down in one of the viewing rooms at the Whitney Biennial this Saturday and realized the reference. Not least of all because, while I may be physically sighted, I've never actually had the experience of petting an elephant. Each person really does approach and describe the elephant uniquely, and along the way, telegraph their own perspective as someone who lives without one of the five senses. One man said he wouldn't really want to gain the power of sight, if given the option, for anything more than a day or so, since it meant he'd have to relearn so much. One woman described the thin line between dreaming in bed and waking up in the morning: sounds are her dreams and sounds are also the pathway back into reality. One man said he didn't really like touching the elephant, while another got right up and placed his face against the animal's skin. It made me realize how shut off I am usually from my sense of touch. How sight and hearing and smell and taste somehow take precedent, usually in that order. Hands, for me, are how things get done, not how things are experienced. I've been working to alter that.