Echolocating Sculpture: A Monument to Abstraction

About six months ago I learned a skill called echolocation. By making a tongue click, a blind person can learn to see with reflected sound. Read that article first if you haven’t, as this one depends on it. Only one organization in the world teaches this skill: World Access for the Blind. They deserve your support. Every blind person who can should learn it.

During the intensive, my teacher Justin said that I could use echolocation to see sculpture. This intrigued me. Of course, I immediately wanted to go to the Rodin Museum and try it out. Justin said I should do it myself later so we could work on more practical things. I agreed, but really wanted to go. Today I had my chance.

My father runs the Seraphin Gallery. Once in a while he will ask us (his kids) to go to an art opening. Usually they have paintings, which obviously I can’t get too excited about. At least I’d get free wine. This time however he said they would have sculpture, so that peaked my interest. I told him of my plan to use echolocation to try to see sculptures.

Most art museums will not let you touch the sculptures, sometimes even getting quite mean about it. I recall a field trip to the Philadelphia Museum of Art. They really didn’t want me touching their precious sculpture, and made me wear gloves. This totally took away the appeal. Marble feels muddy under cloth. Too bad I didn’t know echolocation then.

Fortunately, tonight’s opening did not happen at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, and I could touch everything, since my father owns the gallery. I even got to have a chat with the sculptor, David Borgerding. I felt excited that I could touch the pieces, but I felt just as excited about trying echolocation to see something abstract.

I walked there with a friend of the family named Alex, who should have a blog of his own. We entered the gallery and I just started echolocating to find sculptures. I felt like a kid searching a room for treasures. And sure enough I found them!

They arose like dark forms, monuments of abstraction. I could scan and make out the major features. After I used echolocation, I would then allow myself to touch them and get the fine details, then I’d go back to echolocation to appreciate it at a distance and with a holistic perspective. You know that tale about the blind men touching an elephant? That would never happen with echolocation, which lets you see the whole structure instead of its discrete parts.

I saw a lot of waves, and appendage-like forms. Even the squares did not have perfectly square shapes. No right angles, just curves. The artist’s statement confirmed this. I gravitated to two in particular. The first reminded me of a sailboat. The second one reminded me of the monument to abstraction I referenced above. David actually took this picture himself, so there you have a picture of a sculpture taken by the sculptor. This one also had an amazing texture, since he made it out of bronze and polished it somehow. I think gold also played a part.

Hearing about these colors reminded me of another visual aide, the Color ID app I have previously used to watch a sunset. It accurately identified the colors of the metals as I passed the iPhone over the sculpture. The app has exotic colors which I enjoyed in this artsy setting, especially Almond Frost, whatever that means. The simple colors proved more practical in a basic sense, grays and browns mainly. Now I had three ways to appreciate this art: touch, echolocation, and the Color ID app on my iPhone. This gave a very complete picture.

While discussing all this with the artist and others, I realized something else. Normally I use echolocation in every-day settings, such as finding a path, following the shoreline of a building, or enjoying the organic patterns of a tree. Now for the first time my brain saw something completely abstract. It tried to put names to the forms but ultimately could not. The artist agreed saying: “It’s nothing, and it’s everything.” This made for a novel experience. The visual centers of my brain felt satisfied and saturated.

By this time the crowds had begun filing in, making echolocation less effective, especially for appreciating aesthetics. The wine went to my head and I felt like eating. Alex and I walked to a nearby restaurant. By the time we returned, the showing had ended. I look forward to appreciating sculpture again, especially now that I can see it. I like sculpture!