art

Gestures and prejudices

There is an exhibition going on at The Power Plant called Postscript: Writing about Conceptual Art, featuring a number of contemporary art pieces with a strong connection to the spoken and written forms. I went to see it last Sunday and yesterday, and I think I have now seen all the pieces — not meaning I’ve understood them, of course, just that I’ve seen them.

One of the pieces is an installation consisting of a book with Braille and a video of a blind person reading aloud from that book. Or at least that’s what the description says. The blind person read from multiple spreads in the book, but at The Power Plant the book is locked inside a glass case, so even if I were a blind person I wouldn’t be able to read the Braille.

Except that a person who is not blind can actually read the Braille — with difficulty of course, but for sure can read. Last Sunday when I spotted the piece I tried hard to read it. The lighting (and the fact that it’s in a glass case) makes it really difficult to read, but I actually managed to make out all the words on the spread. I was surprised I could actually read it, but I was more surprised by a couple of other things: First, the Braille is in the wrong language, and second, there are errors in the Braille.

First, anyone who can read some Braille by sight soon figures out the Braille on the book is in English. But the blind person in the video was reading in Spanish. The Braille in the video is virtually impossible to make out, but yesterday I managed to make out two words in the video, and I had no idea what they meant — they were, I assumed, Spanish words. The blind person in the video was reading from a Spanish book, yet the book in the exhibit is in English.

And when I tried rereading it yesterday I couldn’t figure out what the first letter was, and after a few minutes I figured out why: The first symbol was not a letter at all, but the uppercase indicator — a non-English uppercase indicator with two dots, not the one-dot uppercase indicator used in English Braille.

Aside from the two-dot uppercase indicator, when I tried reading it last Sunday I got stuck on a word — or rather a letter: dots 1-2-6. I was thinking “Ugh, I can’t read Grade 2.” Then I realized all other words were in Grade 1, so there couldn’t be a single word that’s in Grade 2. In other words, it wasn’t a Grade 2 symbol at all; it’s a typo. What I saw was just the letter “h”, and the word was just the word “the”.

So why the uncorrected mistake? Is it because whoever made the book (who might or might not be the artist — it might have been just someone helping the artist) thought no one was going to be able to read it so it wouldn’t matter?

Which brings us back to the glass case: Why the glass case? Why make it inaccessible to people who would actually be able to read the book? Is the book with Braille just a gesture? Is the uncorrected mistake borne out of a prejudice?

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