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> > > Ardent Hare present First Impressions - a Go Public commission

23 March 2012

three stills of the inside of a shopping centre and road with the words: the bane of a blind person's life; they get in the way

Stills from 'First Impressions' - a film installation which explores access to the urban environment

Deborah Caulfield just about found her way to New Bucks University, High Wycombe on 16 March 2012, for Zoe Partington's 'First Impressions' - a film installation about accessing the urban environment, from a blind person's perspective

First rule of reviewing: Don't write about your journey to the event. Second rule: Don’t put too much of yourself in it.

So we've set off with our map, me and my friend. We're late. I'm driving; she knows High Wycombe like the back of beyond.

After several circuits round the crazy one-way system, we're in the grounds of New Bucks University. I drive straight past the permitted parking place, slotting into a blue badge spot, which causes my friend to have to make an exhausting trek to the reception area where the Private View is happening.

In a windswept paved area, eight or nine people dressed all in white are lined up in front of a large white plastic cube onto which is projected a jerky image of a map of high Wycombe.

My friend is unable to walk or stand for more than a couple of minutes without fighting for breath so I grab an empty seat-like object, one of the concrete boulders that are dotted around, more for decoration than function. They’re shaped to deter social conviviality. This space is not for gathering.

The press release says:

‘First Impressions provides a platform for Zoe Partington's observations of disabled people's interaction with environments, enabling her to adopt a creative process for highlighting and sharing another impression and another perspective.’

I missed the introduction, so I'm guessing here that the white-clad performers are the students and members of the Signdance Collective who have been working with Zoe, exploring issues around the built environment, sharing experiences of disabled people's journeys’ through life and public spaces.

The performance, lasting 20 minutes or so, is at once hectic, vibrant, graceful, fraught, and lyrical. Here is alienation and fear; a yearning to be part of it, whatever, however.

My friend goes inside because she's cold. I'm feeling bad. I'd told her this was Art. She’d imagined paintings on a wall indoors, somewhere warm.

Within the cube (holds six people max) a looped film is projected on to one of the walls. The film is of a visually impaired man walking, a camera strapped to his forehead. All we see is his feet and the roads, streets and pavements zipping past. The man commentates, narrating his journey, with subtitles.

The press release says: ‘the film is intended to highlight the correlation between disabled people's journeys and the impact that the design of the environment in urban spaces makes on a person's stress levels.’

Watching the film is an uncomfortable experience. I struggle to stand without something or someone solid to lean on. Pain is a great purloiner of participation and pleasure.

However, the point of the installation is not lost on me. The sense of tedium and boredom while watching the film is as profound as the dissonance conveyed by the walker’s description of the disorienting effect of wall-to-wall, hard-on-hard, surfaces inside a shopping mall.

On and on he walks, the ground an abstract blur of texture and line. There’s nothing to see, nothing for the eye to latch on to, which is what I’m used to, what I need.

How am I supposed to feel? Signage is poor along this particular journey. Yet the narrator’s moment of near-panic is audible, as a vehicle passes by. How close was that? I wonder, adding ‘Are we nearly there yet'?


liz Porter

26 March 2012

sometimes it's hard to be completely objective when going to witness/experience work by our contemporaries and presented by organisations who are passionate about reaching out and working with Deaf and Disabled artists. But there is need for objective reflection amongst subjective response here, for it must be said the getting to the event, was extremely frustrating and irritating because we hadn't been given clear enough instructions on how to find the venue and no clear guidance on public transport and walking routes. Ironic, given the nature of the work we were going to see. Something for Ardent Hare to actively consider for all other events.We nearly gave up but having done a 2.5 hour journey from Brighton would ahve seemed churlish and we wanted to see the work.

Being partially sighted myself, now a cane user I completely got Zoe's work and enjoyed it, it certainly represents the chaotic and sometimes emotionally stressful experience of a journey through spaces familiar and new, so I liked the cube looking down, at the pavement was my own expeirence before the cane, but I did miss the sound of roads, the confusion of colour's merging and the tendency for 'peering' at shop's signs, which I would have liked to be incorporated more, what we saw was greays merging into greys, light changes, but not much mroe and yes you got the sense of chenge under foot, but not necessarily chaning surroundings or the feeling of moving through crowds. I didn't get the medical science bit, although would ahve loved it as like the idea, but couldn't see or hear it. so perhaps cause for Zoe to reflect on how to present thie side of the work more prominently for those who don't see. I did enjoy Sign Dance Collective's dance piece with Bucks Uni students, it refelcted and multipied the experience greatly and was a good addition to the piece, jerky and fast paced with a great narrative too. I hope they get the chance to develop the work and take it to a lot of outside arts events and to work with visually impaired performers who I suspect wuld add value in a different way.

It was great to experinece though and has huge potential to grow and I hope will be picked up by festivals and galleries.

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