Saturday, February 26, 2011

Braille Theory

Procedural thinking ends. Bland and plastic-like, braille's surface can receive an unintended use.
Using braille paper is nothing new in my art work. I can't decipher the bumps, and that's fine. I did learn half the alphabet and some short words but never resumed my braille lessons.  Standard concept ..."bumps" -useful, "flat surface" -useless. I beg to differ.

There was in the community room of the Associated Blind Service Organization, a table filled with unwanted items left for those to pick over. I picked up two braille books- a Playboy and Sports Illustrated -around 1993- just for use as art materials. Those pages, used occasionally, stay in a box with my art supplies.

Here, braille is used to symbolize feeling. Mourning and grief. The intangible loss.  I had just lost many very close friends and my sister to AIDS. Many early braille images were made with the pain and urgency of early death in mind, I reasoned braille had the dual role as a metaphor for sight loss, and non existence. One of these works shown on this blog uses linear figures inspired from Greek "white -ground "drawing made on small ceramic funeral jars which were buried with the deceased person. A departure or embarkation to the underworld is shown. One might see many patches. This is intended. Think of these as "paintings of paintings". This is an ancient archaic theme- worn and broken with time, pieces crack off, are worn away- nothing is all too clear. What makes life meaningful is its finite nature.

The narrower piece reflects another dramatic moment, presented as a flat, fragmented ancient fresco painting crowned by a Medusa head. The imagery is derived from a remarkably rare painted plaque on marble found in the excavations of Herculaneum, blistered and broken by the fury of its volcanic burial.

Yet another variation of the braille symbolism is  just to reproduce the dot alphabet (or its appearance anyway). Patches and clusters of dot text play around, drawn in, illustrating - labeling or translating.

I've shown several acrylic paintings on braille paper in an exhibition in a group show by the National Exhibitions by Blind Artists around 1994.

Another brailled sketch can be seen in the light painting "Dale Cannedy Boxing a Brailed Bird". This pastel on braille paper was projected behind Dale during the exposure.

The idea to use braille in the "Box portrait" images we make at Seeing With Photography Collective, came after seeing a box portrait image Donald  Martinez had made, where one could (or some could), see tiny pin pricks scattered around the image, left by the thumb tacks used to fasten the photo paper up to the box.
So that triggered a new direction, and I thought over the possibilities of merging the camera's image with some surprising materials. And so, one morning I brought in a selection of papers from my supplies at home- thin rice paper, marbled "banana paper" from Mexico, braille paper and watercolor paper too. Even a small piece of an unusual paper embedded with thin strands of vegetation, it can be seen if you look closely in Jacques Montel's box portrait. {Its in a previous post here 9.11.2010}. I used that  braille sheet for a short time, but lost it, so I had to use another sheet from another braille Playboy kept in the cabinets of props in the room where we work.

Other designed and patterned objects soon followed, placed at the back, at the focus point of the box camera's crude lens,. like the round tin top in Vicki's portrait. The round lid's filigree at the periphery is seen. In the center is taped another  crudely torn circle of that braille, capturing  Vicki's soft likeness.

Above, Braille 3,1993, Braille 2, 1993, Untitled, c. 1993, Blind at the Table c. 2006, Dale Cannedy Boxing a Brailled Bird, c. 2000, Braille Eye, 2004, Excavated Fresco, 2002, Brailled Columns, c.2006, Braille Self Portrait as Antique, 2008, Victorine's Image on a Braille Tondo, Soon After Singing "All You Need is Love', 2009.