Vision research explored through the arts examined at public talk, masterclass at York U

Georgina Kleege

A public talk and masterclass at York University will examine how vision research can be explored through the arts when disability studies expert Georgina Kleege presents “Blind Self Portraits: Remaking the Image of Blindness.”

Presented on Jan. 16 and 17 by York University’s Peripheral Vision Lab, Sensorium and VISTA, the event runs as part of the Peripheral Visions Speakers Series.

The talk will take place Jan. 16 from 3 to 5 p.m. in the Joseph G. Green Studio Theatre, and the masterclass is scheduled for Jan. 17 from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. in the Sensorium Loft.

Georgina Kleege
Georgina Kleege

Kleege is a professor of English at the University of California. Her collection of personal essays, Sight Unseen (1999), is a classic in the field of disability studies.

During her talk, she will explore the ways blindness and visual art are linked in many facets of the culture, speaking from her position as the blind daughter of two visual artists. Due to this background, she claims to know something about art, but recognizes that this claim challenges cultural notions that conflate seeing with knowing.

Kleege will examine the ways blindness has been represented in philosophy, visual culture and cognitive science, showing how these traditional understandings of blindness rely on an over-determined, one-to-one correspondence between touch in the blind and sight in the sighted, as if the other senses and other forms of cognition play no role in perception.

Unfortunately, this reductive image of blindness often influences the design of museum access programs for the blind, including touch tours and verbal description of art. Kleege will place these representations in conversation with autobiographical accounts by blind people, especially blind and visually impaired artists.

Her essays include an autobiographical account of her own blindness, and cultural critique of depictions of blindness in literature, film and language. Many of these essays are required reading for students in disability studies, as well as visual culture, education, public health, psychology, philosophy and ophthalmology. Blind Rage: Letters to Helen Keller (2006) transcends the boundaries between fiction and nonfiction to reimagine the life and legacy of this celebrated disability icon.

Kleegeā€™s latest book, More Than Meets the Eye: What Blindness Brings to Art (2018), is concerned with blindness and visual art: how blindness is represented in art, how blindness affects the lives of visual artists, how museums can make visual art accessible to people who are blind and visually impaired.

She has lectured and served as consultant to art institutions around the world, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York and the Tate Modern in London.

Faculty and graduate students are also welcome to participate in the masterclass. Those interested should RSVP to pvl@yorku.ca.

The Peripheral Visions Series is working towards offering barrier-free events at York University. It welcomes feedback, recommendations and collaboration around access at York University. To join the conversation, contact uspvl@yorku.ca.

The event is co-sponsored by the Peripheral Vision Lab, the Sensorium Centre for Digital Arts & Technology, VISTA, the departments of Theatre and Cinema & Media Arts, the Canada Research Excellence Fund, the Performance Studies (Canada) Speaker Series and the Graduate Program in Critical Disability Studies.