Wednesday 21 October 2015

→ books & braille: reading with the fingertips


At BABE earlier this year I met a Norwegian artist Randi Strand. Randi's work reflects on the physicality and meaning of language signs, exploring relationship between signifier and signified. Randi showed me her recent book BERØRINGSSTROFER, which runs a Norwegian text alongside a text in Braille. Norwegian words are printed in a gently raised glossy ink. A bind person would be able to read the Braille and detect the physical presence of another text without being able to read it. A sighted person, on the other hand, will be able to read the Norwegian text (subject to the knowledge of Norwegian!) and see the presence of Braille as asemic writing. This beautifully light and poetic book combines tactile and visual pleasure of reading.

When we close our eyes, the object between our fingers loses visual cues - such as title, text, colophon, index, images. Books become blank books - or libri illeggibile - books devoid of traditional attributes of book in favour of acoustic and tactile experience. (Reading Book as an Object, 2015)

Indeed, some books become less blank than the others: some books are produced for tactile reading and they can only be read with the fingertips. In those books materiality of the object merges with the verbal and the visual content into one tactile experience of a very physical reading. They are the books for the blind.


David Rumsay Map Collection holds a 1837 embossed atlas for the blind. The atlas is printed in Boston Line Type - it was not until 20th century that New England Institution for Education of the Blind adopted Braille. 

L: Back of embossed New Hampshire map page. R: Explanation of New Hampshire map. From atlas of the united states, Printed for the use of the blind, at the expense of John C. Cray; under the direction of s.g. howe. at the n.e. institution for the education of the blind. Boston 1837.(SLATE)

L: Back of page holding explanation of Vermont map. R:New Hampshire map. From atlas of the united states, Printed for the use of the blind, at the expense of John C. Cray; under the direction of s.g. howe. at the n.e. institution for the education of the blind. Boston 1837. (SLATE)


Contemporary embossed maps are produced by Princeton Braillists. The master drawings are duplicated by the Thermoform process to make clear, sharp copies onto plastic sheets, which are bound into volumes with cardboard covers and spiral plastic binders.




A few years ago Illinois Rare Books and Manuscripts library found a 19th century Moon's "First illustrated reader": a book for blind children, published in Moon type and decorated with eight embossed illustrations.

Bellow is a beautiful contemporary Braille edition of Piccolo Principe, with embossed illustrations, including this image of a boa constrictor digesting an elephant.

A very promising appliance for the blind was featured in September 2015 issue of BBC Focus Magazine. BLITAB - a tablet which will allow the 285 million of blind and visually impaired individuals to finally enter the "tablet revolution". BLITAB is the first affordable (potentially) and light tablet for the blind. It was developed by an Australian startup: it creates Braille out of tiny, liquid-filled bubbles. Up to 15 lines of Braille can be displayed, while built-in software can convert text into Braille from websites or USB sticks. BLITAB can also display graphs, pictures, maps. It is expected to go on sale in 2016.


The final body of images come from a photographic work by the above mentioned Norwegian artist Randi Strand. Her series Memoria feature a set of seemingly insignificant images overprinted with Braille, forming a drawing of embossed writing.
The works are at the same time images of language and inaccessible language images. They conceal their message and convert communication into decoration. One language decorates another. She complicates them, takes them apart and reassembles them in new ways. She challenges us to ignore the meaning of signs and draws our attention to the signs as such, in other words, to the visuality of language – as form, movement, image. In this way the signs are emptied of their original meanings, without becoming meaningless in the process. (text by Mari Aarre)

No comments:

Post a Comment