Alternative Monday 8 – Seeing through touch

If the best art helps you to see the world differently, in 2014 artist Mark Dixon took the premise literally. After some previous success working with students excluded from mainstream education, and suggesting that finding ways to get through to these young people was an art form in its own right, Mark returned with a collaborator – blind physiotherapist Rebecca Lake.

Drawing on his own interests in archaeology and ancient British land art, Mark encouraged the students to consider their bodies from different perspectives as figures in the landscape. This began with the use of 3D scanning technology to create digital renderings of their bodies becoming fused with the surrounding environment. Students protested that “they didn’t look like that” at unexpected outcomes such as legs resembling tree trunks. This led to a closer examination of what they did look like by casting their hands and faces in alginate moulds to create plaster replicas.

Seeing through touch - 3D scans
3D scans of students’ bodies fusing with the landscape.

After enthusiastically taking part in digitally scanning their bodies, there was suspicion among the students when this strange artist suggested pouring cold blue slime onto their faces to make casts.

Their resistance to the claustrophobic experience was tempered by the presence of Rebecca. As a blind physiotherapist, Rebecca explained her way of understanding bodies was through touch. Students dutifully lined up while Rebecca felt the contours of their faces. Suddenly the students were all too keen to cast their expressions, challenging Rebecca to correctly identify which cast face belonged to which student; a task made to look as easy as the carrot she julienned in seconds whilst preparing lunch.

The symmetry intended by Mark and Rebecca’s collaboration was realised by students wanting to explore the landscape at Sudborough Green Lodge whilst waiting for the casts of their faces to dry, their vision fully obscured.

Sometimes seeing the world differently doesn’t require seeing at all.

James Steventon

Seeing through touch - Rebecca guides student
Rebecca Lake guiding a student.

Look out for more Alternative Monday posts every fortnight, looking back on some of our favourite alternative provision activities.