|:the braille box:, Jessica Tyrrell|
In the middle of the almost claustrophobic front space is a smaller metal skeleton of a room. Connecting the four planes of the scaffold is a thin shelf on which strips of braille are pasted, dimly lit, inviting you to touch. As I run my fingers along the bumps, a voice emerges abruptly from behind me out of the darkness, and a snippet of video appears projected on the low ceiling, directly above the cube. I react, remove my fingers and the action stops. Soon I learn to play the box: closer to the corners is louder and more intense, moving towards the centre vision and sound begin to fade, eventually shifting into another voice at the far end.
Jessica Tyrrell has drawn the content for :the braille box: from interviews with people (curiously, mainly men), discussing what it is to be blind, how they lost their sight, the progression of their blindness and their reactions, both psychological and physical. The video sequences use grey/blue hues and show the interviewees’ faces, partially obscured by shadow, overlaid with light patterns and textures. Like the sound, these visions respond with varying levels of clarity and intensity to the actions of fingers on the braille.
The interviews in themselves are totally absorbing as the subjects speak in strikingly honest yet quite detached tones about their experiences. One man who has become blind in mid-career, talks of the sensation of his life peeling away, all sense of identity based on what he ‘did’ stripped from him, forcing him to reconstruct himself as the person he actually ‘is.’ A woman wonders whether blind people feel more intensely, not just through heightened senses, but emotionally. A calm acceptance and wisdom comes across in these conversations that makes me feel an honoured witness.
In some ways :the braille box: could stand as a purely interactive audio installation, as the voices are fluidly manipulated and augmented with subtle under-rumbles and reverbs and are interestingly spatialised. However the use of the video emphasises the feeling of disorientation and loss. The constant shifting and obscuring of the image serves to construct a visual parallel for the sensation of blindness—an intriguing contradiction for a seeing audience.
Jessica Tyrrell has been very canny in her design of the interactive interface. The cause and effect is quickly discernible, but you need to constantly run your fingers across the braille to keep the content playing. While the installation may initially appear to be touch sensitive, further play reveals the use of video tracking registering the movement of the fingers to control the audiovisual material. Using distance from the camera as a key parameter the results are slightly unpredictable providing just enough frustration to keep you exploring and seeking more of the content, which is at once educational without being didactic, and moving without lapsing into sentimentality. So engrossing was the experience that when I stumbled back out into the shockingly sunny street not only the tips of my fingers were tingling.
Jessica Tyrrell, :the braille box:, Don’t Look Now Gallery, Sydney, Nov 8-17
RealTime issue #82 Dec-Jan 2007 pg. 43
© Gail Priest; for permission to reproduce apply to firstname.lastname@example.org