Sunday, 21 April 2013

Completely in the dark

Many people find enjoyment from spending 90 minutes in a darkened room watching a movie. But what about spending 90 minutes in five totally darkened rooms watching... nothing at all?

A brilliant viewpoint-changing exhibition, one that's somehow been missed by the mainstream media, has been on in Warsaw since December 2011. I went last week, and it's still with me.

Niewidzialna Wystawa (Invisible Exhibition) is on at the Millennium Plaza (the so-called Toi-Toi building near Pl. Zawiszy). It is about sensory deprivation - for an hour and half, you are deprived of the sense of sight. You enter the world of the blind person. It is quite extraordinary.

Small groups of up to eight people are led into total darkness. That's 'total' as in now glowing wrist-watches, no mobile phones, no light sources of whatever description allowed in. The curtain closes behind you; you will see nothing for the next 90 minutes. Your other senses will take over.

There are five rooms. We've been sworn to secrecy - I can't tell you what exactly is in them, except to say that the first is an ordinary house, the second is a street, the third an art gallery, the fourth a forester's lodge, the fifth - a wooded glade. With your hands, you feel your way around. You discover familiar surroundings in an entirely new way.

One of the rooms in the exhibition. Can't remember which one, though.
In the first room, I felt a mounting sense of unease. Would I be able to cope for the full 90 minutes? People around me were discovering things at the edges of the first room - I was holding back my anxiety. There was among us a girl, aged six or seven, named Ania (as it happened one of three Anias in the group), was the first to get accustomed to the dark; she was joyously calling out the names of things as she identified them. Her cheerful voice reassured me; as we moved into the second room - a street - I began feeling more comfortable.

We followed the beckoning calls of our guide, as she let us confidently from one room to another. As we started getting used to our new surroundings, the adults started slowly returning to themselves, even cracking the occasional good-natured joke.

My greatest fear was for my shins. The shins are particularly sensitive; walking into furniture or barriers can be painful. Groping around in a ceaseless search for points of reference, for textures, shapes, beginnings of things, ends of things, trying to make sense of what your fingers contact; it becomes a challenge - though a tiring one.

As we moved around the exhibition, one profound insight occurred to me - if there's one thing worse than being blind - it's being alone.

Bring loose change. There's the opportunity to buy mineral water, chocolate bars and snacks - but you have to find the right money, hand it over to the guide, check you've got the right change, and take your purchase. Little Ania bought a bottle of mineral water, which to everyone's surprise, she correctly identified as Kropla Beskidu. "By the shape of the bottle", she explained.

Our guide warned us that we were getting close to the end of the exhibition, and that we'd soon be entering the world of light once again. She asked us to blink rapidly, so that our irises would get accustomed to normal daylight. As we emerged into the foyer, I realised that the girl who had so authoritatively and so confidently led us through the darkness was herself blind. And then little Ania asked "Can I stop blinking now?"

There was time to see an exhibition about Braille (a textbook for a blind schoolchild takes up six times as many pages as one for a sighted child, a Braille typewriter has but six keys and a space-bar), there was a Braille globe, various household gadgets for the blind (from speaking wristwatches to apple peelers) and other educational and entertainment aids. All very humbling, when one considers how much more effort a visually impaired person is forced to make in order to live and learn as the rest of us do.

This is an exhibition not to be missed. Apart from the valuable social message, it gives one the chance to immerse oneself in a world in which one sense needs to be supplanted by the other four (or five if you believe in six). "Go and see it", I wrote summing up. But indeed, there's nothing to see. Which makes this exhibition unique - literally once in a lifetime. Tickets are cinema-priced; 21 złotys weekdays, 25 złotys weekends, with student, pensioner, child and family discounts. Niewidzialna Wystawa is open all week from 12:00 to 20:00, with the last group going in at 18:45. On Thursdays and Sundays it opens two hours earlier (at 10:00).

This time last year:
New engine on the coal train

This time two years ago
High time to leave the car at home

This time three years ago:
The answer to urban commuting

This time six years ago:
Far away across the fields


Unknown said...

'Imagine' is a sensitively handled film on the subject of blindness by Jakimowski, recently shown at the Kinoteka Polish Film Festival at Riverside Studios

Unknown said...

'Imagine' is a sensitively handled film on the subject of blindness by Jakimowski, recently shown at the Kinoteka Polish Film Festival at Riverside Studios