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Blind artist challenges the idea of visual arts by improving a cane

Shared by Maria Inês Lobato on 2017-11-08 13:06

About the solution

Carmen Papalia attempted to produce a system of access for himself that would better serve his needs than a white cane. He created Mobility Device, a collaborative performance that allows him to claim agency by abandoning his white cane for a marching band that serves as his primary navigation system. As part of a site-specific performance of Mobility Device, he explored downtown Santa Ana while the Great Centurion marching band from Century High School provided musical cues, indicating objects, obstacles, and other information that they felt might be relevant to him on his journey.

With Mobility Device, fixtures such as curbs, lampposts, and sandwich boards become notes in the soundscape of a place. The arrangement proposes the possibility of user-generated, creative, process-based systems of access while representing a noninstitutional and non institutionalizing solution for the problem of the white cane.

“I saw this cane as an opportunity to collaborate”, he said.

As a piece of music, Mobility Device is an extension of the musicality of the white cane, bringing attention to the things that the implement, on any occasion, might touch and give rise to sound.

“By taking on projects such as Mobility Device and Blind Field Shuttle, I came to realize my way of being in the world as a mode of orientation that has the potential to uncover entire unseen bodies of knowledge. This inspired me to consider everything from how cultures might have evolved if the origins of communication had centered on the tactile sense to what a typical museum experience for the non visual learner might be. I condensed my thinking on these topics into an article for a special issue of Disability Studies Quarterly and drafted a list of interventions that would reframe access in the museum as an open creative process. Near the end of the article, I offered my services as an access coordinator to any institution that would have me”, Papalia explained.

His work has been featured in exhibitions and engagements at such venues as the Whitney Museum of American Art, the Guggenheim Museum, and the Museum of Modern Art.

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About the author

Carmen Papalia, born in Vancouver, Canada, in 1981, is a blind social practice artist who makes participatory projects on the topic of access. It relates to public space, the art institution and visual culture. He designs experiences that invite participants to expand their perceptual mobility and to claim access to public and institutional spaces.

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