Wednesday, 24 August 2011

Edinburgh Art Festival : Pandora’s Light Box : Artlink

Radio Scotland are going to be doing an interview with me and Jan-Bert of Artlink about Artlink and the Pandora Light Box project.  I will be offering a blind person's views on the art world, inclusion and how positive I felt this project of Artlink had been in conjunction with the Talbot Rice Gallery.   We will be at the BBC Edinburgh studio and linked with Claire English from BBC Radio Scotland in Glasgow.  The running time is for 13:25 today (August 30th).  If you're listening on the internet, you can check out the BBC schedule for The Culture Cafe which starts at 13:15. 

Following on from my post regarding the Edinburgh Art Festival and my visit to the Anton Henning exhibition at the Talbot Rice Gallery, I returned to the gallery for the launch of Pandora’s Light Box.  I had been invited to take a sneak ‘peek’ on my first visit and had decided that I would definitely go back.  I attended the reception on 17th August and was welcomed by Zoe Fothergill of the Talbot Rice Gallery and Susan Humble from Artlink.  I was able to meet several people from the visually impaired community and it was good to share in their interactions with others in the community.  My own contribution was in lending out my cane to both Zoe and Susan so that they could experience the carpet in the Anton Henning exhibition and do a compare and contrast with the Georgian gallery, to where we later adjourned for drinks and a performance of a poem especially written by Ken Cockburn and performed by Ken and Lorna Irvine from the Scottish Poetry Library (SPL). 

The poem can be heard using the listening devices in the three galleries and I listened to the poem in the Georgian gallery before hearing it live with Ken and Lorna. 

The evening was very entertaining with some suggestions made about visiting other exhibitions in the city.  By this time I had been to the two galleries in Belford Road (Modern 1 and Modern 2) and, on the recommendation of a lady who rescued my hat in Modern 1, had made a quick trip to the Dovecot gallery in Infirmary Street.  (It’s true; they do have a great cafe and good coffee!) 

During the reception I was chatting to Ken Cockburn and Lorna Irvine about the poem and poetry in Scotland in general and the time when I was doing my PhD in Chemistry at the University and would visit the writer in residence, who happened to be the Gaelic poet Sorley MacLean from Raasay. 

Below, I am including Ken Cockburn’s description of how the project was undertaken:

the way our words / associate with what’s / on your mind
My brief was to write a descriptive poem about Talbot Rice Gallery, to be recorded and presented in the gallery as an audio work for visitors both visually impaired and sighted. Access to visual art for individuals with a visual impairment relies on verbal description, and Pandora’s Light Box aims to take that ‘practical’ form and extend it into an artwork in its own right.
I ran three sessions with a group of visually impaired people and Artlink volunteers. At the Scottish Poetry Library, we discussed their experiences of visual art and poetry generally, then at Talbot Rice Gallery, we walked through, discussed and wrote about the gallery spaces. Smell became a recurrent theme – how the galleries smell today, but also what the history and architecture suggested – from the dramatic experiments of the Victorian chemistry professors, to imagined evening balls.
Drawing on those sessions, and reflecting the current layout of the building, the poem fell into three distinct parts – White Gallery, Round Room and Georgian Gallery – and, as I was writing to be heard rather than read, two distinct voices, which echo, support and contrast with each other. I researched the building’s history, and the final poem includes ‘found’ material – accounts of rowdy lectures, names of builders and decorators, instructions for scientific collectors working ‘in the field’.
beetles of brilliant colour and lustre / shells brought up by the cable in weighing anchor
Lorna Irvine and I gave two public readings in the galleries, which led to further revisions, before we recorded the poem with Martin Parker and Jung In Jung. They suggested various ways the recording might be presented within the gallery, and at that stage ceramic artist Frances Priest came on board.
Frances, again after workshopping ideas, developed a prototype ‘listening post’. (Participants said wearing headphones made them feel cut off from their surroundings, so we wanted to avoid those.) This had to meet several (sometimes conflicting) requirements. It had to be accessible and visible within the galleries, without becoming confused with, or detracting from the changing exhibits; it had to be comfortable enough to hold to one’s ear for the length of the poem; it had to work technically, housing the speaker and a control mechanism; it had to be robust enough to endure the odd accident; and it had to convey the message PLEASE HANDLE in an environment where the rule is DO NOT TOUCH.
We hope we’ve squared that particular circle, and, whether you are a first-time or a regular visitor to the gallery, that listening to the poem opens up some new perspectives for you.
this is the is / between / was and will be
Ken Cockburn

I found Susan Humble's speech at the launch encouraging as they had decided to start from first principles without any preconceptions. (I have previously made comments about ‘disability korner’ attitudes by some ‘professionals’ which usually fail in both terms of service and outcome.)

I was able to talk to the locals who had participated and it was encouraging to hear that some were also going to an exhibition by Duncan Robertson at the Patriot Hall gallery in Stockbridge later that week.  I was also invited, but sadly was unable to attend.

You can listen to the poems on sound cloud at:

Susan Humble has kindly provided links to Artlink's activities with a special tour of the exhibition at the Talbot Rice gallery on September 1st. 

Susan Humble
Audience Development Officer
Arts Access
Artlink Edinburgh and the Lothians, SC006845

Monday - Friday 9am - 5pm

13a Spittal Street / Edinburgh / EH3 9DY
Tel 0131 229 3555 Option 1
Text relay 18001 0131 229 3555
Fax 0131 228 5257

Scottish Poetry Library:
Lorna has kindly provided information regarding the Scottish Poetry Library as follows:

Scottish Poetry Library website:

You can listen to some poetry as well as get more information about events.  If you would like to become a member, or simply enter our mailing list, please do contact Kay at reception on 0131 557 2876, or at