Artistic Director Maria Oshodi describes Extant's involvement in a 'rare and exciting event' organised at Royal Holloway, University London: The Blind Creations International Colloquium on Blindness and the Arts.

This arare and exciting event took place between Sunday 28 and Tuesday 30 June at Royal Holloway, University of London and was organised by Dr Hannah Thompson, visually impaired reader in French, and Vanessa Warne, Associate Professor Department of English, Film and Theatre at the University of Manitoba, Canada.

Extant was invited to present on Flatland at an extended plenary session on Monday 29th – Hannah had attended our pilot of the Flatland research and development installation back in March and was keen to have something of the experience represented at this event. To the full conference delegation we outlined the project, describing its origination, realisation and outcomes. After showing a ten minute film by Braunarts on the installation, we ran a half hour demo of the tech used in Flatland and asked two willing volunteers from the audience to take part. The demo involved a brief training with each volunteer and the haptic ‘Animotus’ device, instructions given for the task to be carried out, the volunteer being navigated through an area while sounds played from the Flatland production and a reward being given to the volunteer on completion of the task.

We received huge engagement and interest from our audience who were made up of visually impaired and sighted artists, academics, researchers, writers and many others working in the field of creativity and visual impairment.

Apart from the incredible satisfaction of receiving the positive responses that we did to our work from this audience, it was highly stimulating and a real privilege in turn to have access to so many fascinating and diverse presentations of the delegates own work as well.

Some of these were:

  • Alexandra Tacke, ‘The Blind guiding the Seeing: the ‘blind spots’ of film history’
  • Monika Baar, ‘Depictions of guide dogs and their owners in literature, visual art and film’
  • Steven Riep, ‘Intersections: Objectification, Visual Impairments and Gender in Contemporary Cinema from China and Hong Kong’.

As well as the formal presentations it was energising to bump into, sit next to and share ideas and experiences during coffee breaks with new and more familiar faces, including Dr Simon Hayhoe,whose historical accounts of the Blind in Britain inspired some of the content for Extant’s first haptic and performance project, The Question. To meet Zina Weygand presenting on 'Jacques Lusseyran: Le héros aveugle de la résistance française / The Blind Hero of the French Resistance', and discuss with her Extant’s UK and international tour of Resistance in 2005 based on the experiences of Jacques Lusseyran. To attend Canadian Rod Michalko and Tanya Titchkosky’s session on: 'Blindness Imaginaries and Visual Culture', in which their exploration of blindness and madness from a cultural perspective used African American blind actor and writer Lynn Manning’s one man play ‘Weights. It was thrilling to meet them afterwards and introduce Extant as the company who first brought Lynn to the UK on tour in his seminal production of ‘Weights’ and who I spent two weeks with last year on a cultural fellowship exchange with Watts Village Theatre Company in LA.

It was also lovely to have more direct connections with other people presenting on the day like Emilie Giles, Flatland eTextiles designer, who ran a session on ‘Exploring the role of eTextiles designed by blind and visually impaired users within cultural spaces’, and the queen of audio description, Louise Fryer, who I regularly consult with at the Royal National Theatre on their audio description rehearsals for their assisted performances. Louise was extending the boundaries of audio description practise as she usually does and presenting on, ‘An ecological approach to audio description’ which stimulated a healthy discussion afterwards in the Q/A session.

The only problem with the day was that it was impossible to split yourself into two or three selves and attend all the different deeply intriguing sounding titles of papers that were being given at any one time. Despite this, the organisation of the event from the supply of lovely meals and snacks during breaks to the request for audio description to accompany all visual material and smooth running of technical support for presentations was fantastic! This, and the beautiful weather, I am sure contributed to the lovely, friendly and relaxed atmosphere among this amazing collection of international cohort.

I had to drag myself away to catch a train around 9pm during the fascinating Creative Writers' Round Table featuring Ryan Knighton, Naomi Foyle, Frédéric Grellier, Romain Villet and Rod Michalko. My big regret is that I couldn’t make the whole three days of this unique event and the only consolation is that Hannah and Vanessa will be putting all audio recordings of the Colloquium presentations on line via the event website.

Thanks again to Hannah and Vanessa for all their huge efforts in bringing this extraordinary event together for us to participate in!


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