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Can you feel it in your art?

An exhibition of sculpture has restricted visitors to their sense of touch. Thomas Watson reports

The very idea of an art exhibition in which you are not allowed to see the exhibits may seem an odd one, but the Blind Alphabet C show encourages visitors to ditch their preconceptions and explore artwork exclusively through the medium of touch.

Each of the 77 sculptures in the "show", lovingly crafted by South African artist Willem Boshoff, resides in a box that bears a Braille description of its contents. This ensures that the only way sighted people can possibly experience the sculpture is to feel their way around it, while the visually-impaired visitors get a little more information.

Another twist from the norm is that the sculptures represent a range of archaic words, ensuring that visitors have no preconceived meanings or definitions.

"People not only cannot see the pieces, but they don't know the meaning of the words either, so they are forced to use their sense of touch," says the exhibition's co-ordinator Bob Wright.

Blind Alphabet C has been touring the country since 1998, two years after the foundation Art-Sense, its parent company, was formed with the aim of providing educational art that could be appreciated by sighted and non-sighted alike.

The involvement of schools was a major part of the Art-Sense plan right from the outset.

"We've had everything from Key Stage 1 pupils to adults with special educational needs getting involved," says Bob.

"Visitors love to handle the pieces. It means so much more to people than looking at pictures."

Teachers are briefed before all visits so that they are aware of the dynamics of Blind Alphabet C. The wide range of wooden pieces, for example, offer pupils a variety of figurative and abstract objects to experience.

Pupils are always "interested and amused" by the exhibition, says Bob, although the challenge of using touch as the main sense leaves some bewildered.

"Encouraged to feel the pieces with their eyes closed, some people are hopeless at properly examining them," he says.

It's a welcome change to visit a museum where the rules steer well clear of "Do not touch".

Blind Alphabet C is on show in the following museums: North Somerset Museum, Weston - Super-Mare, March 12-April 9; Museum of Reading, April 23-July 23; Prestongrange Museum, Haddington, September 5-October 30

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