Riksutställningar, Swedish Travelling Exhibitions, Sweden
Published on 29 November 2010
By Gema Alava


A week before arriving to Murcia I had presented TRUST ME in New York. TRUST ME consisted of meeting individually with eleven participants on May 14th in an art museum where they were invited to wear opaque glasses while I described the visual peculiarities of an artwork. This idea originated during my tours as a museum educator for people who are blind or visually impaired. Listening to the narrative of an image that is physically in front of us but we cannot see is an experience that I wanted to make available to a broader audience. TRUST ME’s participants knew that our dialogues would take place inside an institution which would not be aware of our encounters even though their security cameras would record them.

TRUST ME was presented in the Instituto Cervantes on October 15th. After hearing the participants’ experiences, I shared for the first time the photographs that Jason Schmidt took inside the museum during our performances. The magic that was generated that evening, and the depth of the conversations, was quite powerful.

Wooloo appeared right after my performances inside the museums. I received e-mails from friends letting me know about their “New Life Residency” taking place at Manifesta 8. It involved working for a week in a dark room with an assistant who was blind or visually impaired, who would then help present the artwork created to the public of Manifesta 8. What attracted me wasn’t working in the dark room but the opportunity to create images with words inside a physically empty and dark space. It also meant that I would be given a space in which nothing could be documented unless the security cameras were able to record in the dark. The concept of privacy has always been present in my work in one way or another; what is visible and what is not; what we believe is private and what is not. TELL ME and FIND ME, previous projects, also dealt with these issues. Regarding the support and expertise of an assistant who was blind, I could just imagine how much I would learn during this exchange. Being able to share a week with someone who was curious about art and wanted to investigate with me the concept of verbal descriptions was a unique opportunity. 

Rocío Gonzalez has been blind since she was born. She is able to perceive light and its tonalities, and was concerned about having to spend too much time in a completely dark room. She got excited when I told her that I wanted to walk with her around Murcia and Documenta 8 and perform verbal descriptions of what I saw or what she wanted to see. As a result, Rocío got immersed in the visual world via words and I got immersed in the visual world through sounds.

Rocío can perceive the dimensions of a dark room right away. She could hear the cars when we crossed the streets before I did. After spending a couple of days with her my eyes would follow the sounds. In other words, I would listen and, only then, I would turn my head.

The first time I entered intoWooloo’s dark room I bumped into a wall and had the feeling of falling through a tunnel without end. Rocío taught me to move around the space by listening to the echo of my heels and the snapping of my fingers.

For TRUST ME: NEW LIFE, Rocío would choose one of the artworks that I described to her. The verbal description of that piece would then be passed on to the public of Manifesta 8 through her voice inside the dark room. (Rocío can read in the dark.) The chosen piece had the peculiarity that it would remain in Murcia even when Manifesta 8 had left the city. This piece would be physically alive as well as alive in the memory of the participants who had listened to its description. They would have the possibility of bumping into the same piece again one day.

If you were to ask me which piece was described to them I would tell you that I cannot answer that question. The piece is what the participants created in their minds through Rocío’s voice and my words; it is what they remember now, or what they tell others they saw. Each one of them is making the piece alive with their words, passing it on from one person to another. What was described was a fountain of experiences, sound, and light. There were many different reactions after the conclusion of the description: one participant did not want to go outside again; another said that he had forgotten that “important things can only be seen with the eyes of the soul;” some got emotional because they missed the human touch of being able to walk while holding the arm of a friend, because the words in the dark had opened their imaginations, or because they lost the notion of time.

During the time I spent in Manifest 8 I saw a video where an astrophysicist said that words have extraordinary power; they can change the future, create and destroy. I also came across a text by Juan Monsalve which said that memories are printed in our minds through images, but the true Imagination is not the reflection of the reality in our conscience. “It is the other way around; the Imagination is analogy, the light and image of the world.”

Before we said goodbye, Rocío told me that she would like to go to the Alhambra in Granada with me and I promised her that I would try to find a way to develop another project there with her. After all, this is just the beginning.

Gema Alava


c) Gema Alava 2008