Tuesday, 13 September 2011

Anton Henning exhibition at Talbot Rice Gallery: Artlink in action

UPDATE: 1/1/2012

On BBC Radio 4 there is an arts programme titled "Saturday Review" chaired by Tom Sutcliffe.  On radio, Tom had asked listeners to nominate their art events of 2011.  I was able to tweet Tom at @tds153 almost instantly and we had some Twitter exchange and I was delighted that the Anton Henning exhibition at Talbot Rice Gallery and my cane's encounter with the carpet in the Anton Henning Interior installation was mentioned.   It's also worth noting that the Gerhard Richter exhibition was described by Giles Fraser.  My own comments on Gerhard Richter can be found on:

The programme was broadcast on 24/12/2011 and a podcast can be downloaded on: http://www.bbc.co.uk/podcasts/series/sr

** end of update

On September 1st, I did my first ever solo walk as a blind person in my hometown of Edinburgh.  It felt strange but familiar.  I had arranged to go to a talk organised by Artlink with the Talbot Rice Gallery at the Anton Henning exhibition.  I was there quite early and found the gallery without using the lift!  I chatted with the gallery staff and discussed the exhibition again.  A sighted person might sum it up as "visual overload", but I found that I enjoyed it, given that my vision is restricted to peripheral vision with lack of colour definition most of the time. 

The group gathered and we had a 90 minute run through the exhibition, led by Zoe Fothergill of the gallery.  Susan Humble from Artlink was there and as we sat in our folding seats I had a vision of Miss Jean Brodie giving her creme de la creme pupils a talk on her favourite painter (reference The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie by Muriel Spark which is set in Edinburgh). 

Barry Didcock from The Herald covered the talk and wrote it up in the edition of September 3rd, page 12.  I bought up the supplies of The Herald in the local village shop!  I am posting the machine readable version in text format (supplied kindly by Susan Humble of Artlink) as well as an image of the full page on which the article appeared (supplied kindly as a pdf file by Barry Didcock).

This illustrates different perceptions of the visual arts as experienced by two sight conditions.  I have no central vision and while appreciating that the exhibit title Pin-up No. 154 was a nude (shock, horror!), I couldn't make any great distinction regarding taste when compared with the other painting Venus etc.  However, one of the members of Artlink with a different eye condition could make out more detail.

This was my third visit to the Talbot Rice Gallery and a wonderful exhibition and a great start to my first solo walk in Edinburgh.  The next visits were to the Dovcot Gallery, where Emily took me round the tapestry exhibition, and also thanks to Richard from the cafe for recognising me from a previous visit.  The coffee is indeed highly recommended as is the service!

I then went to the National Museum of Scotland in Chamber Street and had a wonderful visit there just by walking in unplanned.  I will report on this in a separate post.

Edinburgh Galleries open up to the visually impaired

Arts group conducts visitors on detailed descriptive tours

Barry Didcock

In an Edinburgh gallery, an argument has broken out in front of a painting called Pin-up No.154.

It shows a woman on her back, legs slightly apart, a slice of cucumber on each eye.  She isn’t wearing anything else.

Rita Simpson hates it. “This one is portraying women as sailors would see them,” says the feisty 60-year-old.  “The more I stare at it, the more I dislike it.”

She turns and points to the wall behind her, where a less confrontational nude hangs. “This is a beautiful painting.” She turns back to Pin-up No 154: “This is an abuse of women.”

Douglas Hutchison doesn’t agree and says so. Others in their small group nod or shake their heads or simply peer at the image.  Curator Zoe Fothergill listens with interest.

Just another day at the capital’s Talbot Rice Gallery? Up to a point.  Look again, though, and it becomes apparent that both Ms Simpson and Mr Hutchison are clutching foldable white sticks.  Ms Simpson also has a pair of thick sunglasses ready to slip on when the light becomes too bright.

The debate about the relative merits of Pin-up No 154 has followed a detailed description of it by Ms Fothergill.  Like the four others in the group, Mr Hutchison and Ms Simpson are visually impaired and are here as part of an event called In The Frame.  It’s organised by Artlink Edinburgh, an arts access organisation which takes visually-impaired people round art galleries where they are given descriptive tours by curators such as Zoe Fothergill.

“If you walk round a gallery normally, it’s just like being in a hospital, very clinical,” says Ms Simpson.

“But once you get the feel of it by someone expressing what if looks like and how it feels, it gives you such an idea of it that you’re in a totally different world altogether.”

Only about 13% of her vision is clear, she says. “Colours are difficult, depending on what they are.  I can’t see anything at the side or above or below.  It’s like tunnel-vision to me.”

For her and the other Artlink participants, events like this really do bring another dimension to the art.

Last month, Artlink visited The Queen’s Gallery, where Ms Simpson was among a seven-strong group given a descriptive tour of an exhibition of paintings by Northern Renaissance painters Albrecht Durer and Hans Holbein.  Today it’s a man with a very different artistic vision: 47 year old German painter and sculptor Anton Henning, who has carpeted the downstairs gallery and decorated the walls in a maelstrom of pastel shades.
One of the first things Zoe Fothergill does is describe the scene.

“There’s a riot of colour in this place,” she says.  “It’s as if someone has gone into the tester pots at B&Q and gone completely wild.”

Mr Hutchison, an Edinburgh native now resident in London, is on his first Artlink gallery tour though he’s a regular on similar schemes in England. Using speech recognition software on his computer he runs a blog, profwhitestick, in which he comments on life as a visually-impaired person.
He also paints and shows me postcards of some of his work.

“Abstract art is difficult to explain to those that can’t see, whereas landscapes and portraits you can imagine,” he says.

“Old Masters are familiar to me, but these are paintings I’ve never seen.”
“We’ve been doing tours like this for seven years,” says Susan Humble,

Artlink’s audience development officer. “We have about 200 clients supported by 130 volunteers.”

Several Edinburgh galleries now run tours for the visually impaired as a matter of course. But, Ms Humble admits, “this is the first time we’ve had explicit nudity on an audio-descriptive tour.” Nobody seems to mind.