How do you host a tour of an installation for a group of blind and low-vision art appreciators when the artwork is entirely digital and all that can be felt is a screen? Well, the good people at Campbelltown Arts Centre thought they’d give it a go – they weren’t going to let the pandemic crush their curators or force them to cancel the much-anticipated exhibitions and performances slated for 2020. They did have to change the line-up considerably, however, including turning an originally dance-based performance into a digital one that involved the creation of an entire virtual world.
Artists Angela Goh and Su Yu Hsin have just launched their new work, ‘Paeonia Drive – Navigation‘ on the Campbelltown Arts Centre’s ‘Bleed’ festival website, being unable to launch it in the flesh as a live performance, and as part of the centre’s commitment to accessibility, they have offered an audio-described version of the work on the site. I not only had the privilege of describing this video performance, I was lucky enough to be right in the mix at the Digital Tactile Tour, or DTT, that preceded the AD version of the artwork going live online.
The aim of a tactile tour prior to an exhibition or performance is to allow blind and low-vision audience members to literally get a feel for the elements of the work and thereby more fully experience the artwork that follows. Same principle with the Digital Tactile Tour, only because none of us could feel the artefacts in the virtual world, I described how they would feel, as well as explaining the way we could move around like a cursor inside the virtual world and open a range of pop-up videos that formed part of the piece as a whole. It was still interactive, being a Zoom session which allowed for questions and comments, but obviously it had to proceed without the element of touch. You could certainly argue that a tactile tour without the ability to touch is no kind of tour at all, but far from being pointless, I got the feeling this event was actually a real success and I can anticipate more of them in the near future, as long as we remain restricted to largely digital forms of gathering. As I mentioned in my previous post, the arts and accessibility to the arts certainly need not be casualties of this pandemic, we just need to find creative ways to keep them alive and thriving. Digital Tactile Tours are a brave new step in that direction.