Dialogue in the Dark: An exhibition to discover the unseen

Review

of an Exhibition

by Diana Issidorides

Published on May 23, 2007

  • Description:

    Few exhibitions have left such a lasting impression on me as the one I couldn’t see.

    I didn’t see “Dialogue in the Dark” on a late summer day in 1997. As I entered the exhibition boat docked at the Amsterdam harbour, I was thrown from bright sunshine into complete darkness. A voice out of the black introduced its owner: “I am blind and today I am your guide to my world”.

    Amidst nervous giggling, stumbling about and bumping against each other, our guide proceeded to lead us through a world devoid of visual stimuli. Disorientation does not begin to describe this unique experience of suddenly being robbed of your major sensory organ. The silly giggling soon gave way to feelings of dizziness, light nausea and wholehearted fascination. We were taken down corridors and into different rooms, asked to touch and identify different objects, to describe the space we were in, and how the objects in it were placed, relative to one another. Things I touched did not make sense at first, as my brain struggled with the unfamiliar task of having to piece together discrete touch sensations, felt consecutively, in order to identify the whole: something our brain normally takes in at a single glance.

    We were led into a busy street, where the noise of cars whooshing by, of bicycle bells ringing and car horns honking left me feeling insecure and apprehensive. Would the noises have sounded as threatening and as loud if I could see? There were other sounds I couldn’t easily place without clues from our guide. I realised then how much sight contributes to how and what we hear. Another strange sensation was how often I was mistaken in locating the direction sounds were coming from. During our stroll in the park (birds chirping, dogs playfully barking in the distance) I could have sworn that the sound of water clattering onto marble stones came from my left. I was dead wrong. But what personally surprised me the most was the smell illusions I was having while immersed in this world of darkness. I smelt car exhaust in the busy street; I smelt flowers in the park; I smelt the distinct odour of fresh water clattering to the ground… It was as if my senses were ganging up to compensate for the one I had left behind, with no regard for a reality check.

    Towards the end of this tour, all of us were exhausted ;-) and in dire need of a drink. Our guide thankfully brought us to a bar (pitch black, of course), where we had to fumble for our wallets and the right coins to pay for our drinks, let alone make sure our fingers didn’t mislead us in counting back the change – for those who only had paper bills. On our way out, we were invited to write a text on a Braille typewriter and take it home, as a memento of this extraordinary exploration of life without light.

    Dialogue in the Dark is still successfully touring the world. I strongly recommend it to all.

Latest Comments (8)

Compelling

by Beth Redmond-jones - May 25, 2007

A few years back, Dan Spock told me about his experience seeing this exhibition in Canada. His description of his experience was so compelling, that it made me propose “Exhibitions That Changed My Life” session at AAM with Dan as one of the panelists. During the session, we turned the lights off and Dan retold his experience. It was amazing.

I wonder why such an experience has such an impact on visitors? Is it because we are thrown into a situation that is so unfamiliar and one we don’t have to address on a daily basis? Is it because we it gets at our vulnerability?

Window to the human mind

by Diana Issidorides - May 26, 2007

The fascination for me had less to do with vulnerability and unfamiliarity. It lay in experiencing the intricacies of cognition and the human mind by taking away a sense I take completely for granted.

The importance of dialogue

by Andrea Bandelli - June 17, 2007

I’ve been to “Dialogue in the Dark” four times – in three countries. Each time it was a unique experience. To me the key is actually in the title – Dialogue. In the dark environment I realized how our eyes take over the other senses, and also create strong filters to the communication with others. In “Dialogue in the Dark” the only way to face the unpleasant (and to some people scary) feeling of being lost and without any spacial reference is by talking to other people. After 15-20 minutes I realized that by talking – by being – with other people I could overcome the fear of not being able to see. And that it was important to keep communicating.
In one of the visits, I was with a guide who was overzealous in giving directions and telling the group what to do, and that somehow spoiled the experience, because it made the group dependent on the guide. All other times the group really bonds together, and, no joke, the exhibition is an eye opener on the value of social connections.

Help

by Jose Vale - May 09, 2008

It may seem like a basic question, the problem is that I was not able to find the answer anywhere:
- Is this a ready made exhibition model that you contract from someone? Or just a concept which you adapt?

Thank you.

José

How to find out more

by Wendy Pollock - May 13, 2008

Jose, check the website Diana mentions above:
<http://www.dialog-im-dunkeln.de/home_en.htm&gt;

Dialogue in North America

by Norman Tmp - May 15, 2008

Dialogue in the dark is being produced by Premier Exhbitions in North America. Contact them

Thank you!

by Jose Vale - May 23, 2008

Thanks Wendy and Norman.

The website Diana mentions above refers only to the Hamburg exhibition. I’ve checked other “Dialogue in the Dark” exhibition webpages. None of them mentions how the process was conducted in its early stages.
A mail was sent to Premier Exhibitions. No reply…yet.

Regards

Jose

Father of Dialogue

by Diana Issidorides - May 23, 2008

Jose,
You can also contact Andreas Heinecke, the “father” of Dialogue on the Dark.
andreas.heinecke@dialog-im-dunkeln.de
Good luck,
Diana

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