Braille 2015

Braille 2015 is a project thats been on my mind for several years and involves photographic images and Braille text. The idea is to take photographs and covert them into Braille descriptions and display those coded pages as if they were the photograph. This will hide the image from the sighted and introduce it to the sightless. I’d like to show my work to the visually impaired community and start discussions about photography and what I think is contemporary art with them.

I’d also like to open discussions about what an image really is, and how we interact with it. This also allows my work to viewed in a completely different manner.

There are aspects of accessibility here of course, but there’s also aspects of the piece that could introduce discussion about gallery space and how it’s used, as well as typical gallery and conservation rules.

Of course these would be about photography first and foremost.

I’ll have to fist chose photographs. I’ll select a new series of images from what has been calling “Wandering”. Wandering are images taken in various pedestrian adventures, typically in Toronto. I haven’t taken all of these yet, but there are a few that I have in the bank that I have not shown from the last year.

Then I have to write descriptions for the visually impaired or fully sightless. There are examples on how to write about art for the visually impaired on the internet and I can use those as a guide. I’ll probably then get someone to copy edit them, and check for any glaring grammatical errors. I’ll use Contracted Braille. That’s the most common form of Braille, and to do this I’ll have to get my written English descriptions transcribed by a Braille transcriber. The most appropriate size of Braille document would replicate the size of the print, and I think I’ve settled on 36″ x 36″. To fill a 36″ x 36″ inch space with regular 8.5 x 11″ paper and 12 point font text would look like this and take 12 sheets of regular size paper. If 1 sheet of 12 point font text translates to 2 pages of contracted Braille text, I estimate the plain text descriptions should be 6 pages long to fill 1 sheets of 8.5 x 11′ paper or approximately my 36 x 36″ square.Braile EstimateSo I’ll write the descriptions that are 6 pages long and translate into 12 pages of Contracted–or grade 2–Braille on sheets of 8.5 x 11″ Braille paper. When I get them transcribed I’ll also ask for Word versions of the Braille if that’s possible.

The next step is to translate those 12 pages of 8,5 x 11″ Braille to one big sheet of 36 x 36″ inch heavy weight archival art paper. I’m probably end up using a some cotton sheet, either a watercolour page or something like Stonehenge or some other drawing paper. To do this I need to fabricate an extra large Braille slate. The images below show standard Braille slates. IMG_4491 IMG_4502So each of these slates can take up to a 8.5 x 11 inch sheet of Braille paper. They open like a book, hinged on one side. You insert the paper and close it. Then you can create the raised dots of Braille in each cell. Each cell has an opening that allows access to the paper, and a series of six indentations under the paper that guide the stylus into one of those six spots that denote individual letters. I originally planned to cut and join 12 of these plastic standard slates, but now I plan to get a CNC router technician to plot, program and manufacture a top and bottom “slate” section based on the standard slates, but that is 48, 48″ inches in size. It will have thousands of cells.

I can then take the transcribed paragraphs and painstakingly create large 36 x 36″ documents out of them.

These would end up being 3 foot squares of raised dots, that could be read by a Braille Reader, describing  a photographic image. These would be framed in floating frames with no glass to allow the tactile nature of Braille to be “read”. There would also be a corresponding standard 12 page of Braille associated with each piece that would be easier for a Braille reader to read in the standard manner, rather than touching the art.

The other question is will I actually display the photographs each of the Braille pieces is describing. I haven’t decided this yet. I’ve toyed with the idea of making the images available in a catalogue that works with the standard Braille sheets. I’ve also thought about making the images available on line and people could access them after they looked at the code view a QR code or something. Part of me also wants to include English translations of the Braille. Whatever I decide the goal feels like, it’s going to be about inconveniencing the sighted. I’d like them to imagine the photographs from the descriptions and then look at the images and see how the two “object” differ.

I think this will be expensive to create the large Braille slate that I would use to create all the work. The translation would be fairly costly as well. I’ve contemplated finding a gallery to exhibit the work, then applying for a Canada or Ontario Arts council grant and then executing so I don’t a) loose my short, or b) have no where to show the work.

I see these pieces initially at either Gallery 44, Gallery TPW, or maybe even the Mississauga or Hamilton Art Galleries. I see them morphing from English into French and then other languages. Braille isn’t a language, it’s a system of code, and can be used to write any language that is based on a standard character set. So I can see this having relevance in other countries.

I also see this as being a plus for many galleries who most likely have accessibility mandates, either through the Trillium Grant system or through some other form of Government grants. Who knows, maybe there’s a grant I can access to create the work

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Braille is the beginning. It’s the first work in preparation for the series called “Seeing” that I’ve been planning for over a year. I’ve decided to practice writing Uncontracted or Grade One Braille until I get reasonably fluent. Then I’ll start working on the planned large scale series. For now I’m doing a series of Braille gifts that I’m leaving all over the city. By the time I finish these in a few months I should have the ability to write without making too many errors.

For this first piece I decided on a regular 8.5 x 11 sheet of Braille with a spontaneous note on it. I wrote this using a traditional Braille slate and stylus while “Waiting” in a Hospital lounge for some stuff to get done. The text basically does little other than introduce the fact that I’m sighted and studying how to write Braille and that I ultimately plan to turn this skill into an art piece. It took me about an hour. Once I finished the piece I left it on a chair in a hospital waiting room in hopes that someone would pick it up and try and decipher it. Most likely it will end up in the trash, but that’s OK.

Here’s the piece on my lap, and below as it looked as I left it on the chair “in situ” waiting to be picked up or trashed by the cleaners.The second “Gift” piece was done on a smaller piece of paper. I wrote it while on the bus leg of my journey to work on Tuesday and it says something like, “Stranger, I think everyone suffers from some sort of blindness.” I left this on the seat of the bus.Wednesday’s message was again short. I left this one in a NOW! newspaper box. This one’s a bit weirder and maybe construed as slightly creepy. I hope not, but I think I’ll stay away from semi-poetic works. This ones translates to ” Stranger, I would talk to you for as long as I could about love if you would listen. C.S. I’m pretty proud of the fact that I just read the Braille to recall that’s what I had written. I’m definitely learning.Thursday’s's piece was rather longish but only took about 20 minutes which I’m pretty proud of. I’m getting faster every time I make one of these things and I’m looking at the cheat sheet less and less. I made this one on the subway at rush hour. Rather than deposit it on the seat and get questioned by people as I left I waited for the crowd to get off the train and left it on a bench on the platform at the Dundas West stop. If someone from the train that was arriving when I left it didn’t pick it up it probably blew into the tunnel somewhere. I think I’ll avoid doing that in future. I don’t want the TTC charging me with something, and I could see them doing so. I can leave these in the foyer of certain stations where they wont be subject to such heavy winds caused by the tunnels and trains.

Friday I did two pieces, one for a very nice co-worker who seems genuinely interested in my somewhat self indulgent projects, and another I deposited on a Dundas West station bench on the mezzanine level as shown below.

The plan for the future larger project called “Seeing” is to take existing photographic images and describe them in text. Then take that text and convert it into Braille and hand print the result using a slate I will custom fabricate to be about the size that the work described would be printed. Tehse will most likely be about 24 inches square. I’ll take pictures of these larger text filled Braille sheets and then make them into photographic prints. It sounds a bit confusing but it’s not really.

I see this work as being photography — a visual art– translated and manipulated through a a series of languages and forms then re-generated once again into a photograph. I’m interested in how the meaning will change as the medium fluctuates and the discussions and interactions it might encourage.

I’ve also made some headway and discovered an artist friendly laser cutting place that’s actually pretty convenient. I need them to cut the individual, page-sized slates I have and create the super large custom slate. This place is around College around Dufferin. I’ll stop in next week with my six individual page-size slates and get them to cut them so I can create a giant 24″ x 24″ slate that I can put a big piece of paper into.

Practice is going well and I really enjoy writing Braille. Once I’ve executed 10 or so large scale works I can take a course and learn Contracted, or Grade 2 Braille. It’s a little more common in the published Braille world but a lot more involved to learn and read. I can see Braille being a very large part of my upcoming work. It’s such a wonderful and cool form of communication.


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Seeing is the next body of work I’ll start to build seriously. It’s been in the idea stage for over a year and I’ve researched it quite a bit already. The next steps are pretty daunting. I need to finish building my studio in the basement, apply for various grants, learn how to write well, teach myself how to hand Braille, and devise a way of making large format Braille works.

Seeing is about understanding. Specifically it’s about understanding that visual art –by it’s very nature and the nature of current museum structure– is exclusionary. In the most obvious way visual art is about seeing and it is definitely inaccessible to the visually impaired or blind. Sculpture is the possible exception, but even with sculpture patrons in galleries are not allowed to touch works so even it is inaccessible.

The ideas for Seeing originally struck me as a way to use photography to create text based art. I’ve always liked text stuff. The original idea was simple, I would describe photographs in text and print those descriptions instead of the photographs. I would change how the image is imagined by not letting it be seen at all. In a way this is a show about photography without showing photography. There does however seem to be a lot of text based work around in the contemporary art world. It’s become rather common place.  Because of that I began to think of ways to create pieces that might still be language based but not so stereotypically word art. If, for instance I was to print the text in very light grey on a white page it would make it less legible and less immediately obvious that it was text. This also served the purpose the obscuring the text, and in a way removing the photograph more, while still demanding the viewers attention.

At this point I started to think about Braille and then I kept thinking about Braille and started researching it. I’m now planning to convert my photographs to descriptions for the visually impaired or completely sightless, then translate that further into Braille by use of a software program called Druxbury, then write the Braille on oversized art paper and those panels of white Braille dots will become the actual art work. I’ll do a series of maybe a dozen pieces all in the same dimensions as the photographs they describe.

I had a fixation for months to get aluminum or fiberglass panels created via a CNC Router and a process they call raster Braille, but the costs were astronomical. There was aslo something too cold about manufactured panles. I far prefer the idea of doing the Braille work by hand now

The people at the CNIB have been very helpful and supplied me with this amazing document circa 1980 I’ve included a page of that document here. I love this document, it’s typed!

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