Have you ever heard of an art exhibit where you are allowed to use your hands as much as your eyes? My recent trek to see Shade: Art Beyond Sight elevated the sense of touch above vision, and was specifically designed from an “eyes closed” perspective. Tactile drawings, touchable objects, braille labels and audio descriptions created a multi-sensory experience.

Outfitted with my audio guide and headphones, I enjoyed exploring the materials used to create the works of art. The feeling of paint on canvas, the texture of bent wood, the fragile liquid slip fired onto cheesecloth gave my fingers a way to explore the samples of the materials used to create the works without getting in trouble! Although, I will admit, after the introductory tactile adventure…my brain was set to “touch mode” and I had to remind myself not to touch the real works of art.

My favorite piece in the exhibit was Expel by Katalin Hausel.

A miniature module of Expel was available to touch and explore.

If you were standing next to me with your eyes closed I would describe Expel to you like this:

There is a black pole 6″ in diameter running from floor to ceiling. The black pole appears to be covered in a velvety material. Four slender strips of wood peel away from the pole like a long petals of a flower. Each strip of wood curves up and down like an irregular wave. Black velvety words are visible in reverse on the wood. Closer inspection reveals the same words printed forwards on the tall black pole. The words appear to be the Ten Commandments.

Here are two small excerpts from the audio transcript for Expel:

Hausel explores her fascination with bodily forms and their echoes in the shapes of words and letters on a page, and draws parallels between built forms and language’s deep structure.

…curves of plywood peel off a structural element of the building, forcing the viewer to move around and through them. Her chosen text, the Ten Commandments, refers to a cultural moment in which the texts around us are being erased or elided in certain contexts.

My personal interpretation: The pole and the words on it represent basic truths. The fragile wood peeling away is merely a representation of these truths. You could remove the wood completely. The truth would still be standing firm, tall and silent.

I left the exhibit with this quote from the Little Prince ringing in my ears, “It is only with the heart that one sees rightly. What is essential is invisible to the eye”.