../Morning Post
Posted January 21, 2011

UTSC psychologist’s work with blind perspective artist featured at Manifesta Biennale

TORONTO – UTSC perception psychologist John Kennedy’s groundbreaking work with the blind artist Esref Armagan was featured this month in a major exhibit at the 2010/2011 Manifesta 8 Biennale in Murcia, Spain.

Kennedy’s work with Armagan is of great relevance to the art community because it demonstrates that blind people can incorporate perspective into their art. For years, perspective was thought to be limited to sighted people.“I have come at this from a science and psychology point of view,” says Kennedy, who has published several peer-reviewed papers testifying to Armagan’s surprising abilities. “I am delighted that this research is now being recognized by the art world.”

In a now-famous experiment—a video of which has since gone viral on YouTube—Armagan was able to sketch a picture of the renowned Baptistry in Florence. This is a building Armagan had touched but had never seen or drawn before, yet he still managed to create an image with the appropriate geometries of perspective. For both psychologists and art historians, this video is a revolution.

“Esref has no eyes but he makes pictures,” writes Kennedy in the text accompanying the Manifesta 8 exhibit. “A new psychology of pictures springs from a mysterious discovery….To understand Esref, I will need to reconstruct art history, to bring to your mind assumptions you did not know you had, and to show you where those assumptions came from.”

Manifesta is one of the world’s premier showcases for innovative contemporary art. The exhibit incorporates video, Armagan’s drawings and many of his imaginative paintings of pastoral scenes such as windmills, bridges, people and animals. Many of the drawings on display are courtesy of Kennedy’s personal research archive. And while he is thrilled to have his research broadcast to an entirely new audience, Kennedy says the most thrilling part is still the science behind the art.

“Pictures were invented by cave artists fifty thousand years ago,” he says. “Those people had made a huge discovery: that we had this capacity found nowhere else in nature, this capacity to draw pictures. We’ve always thought pictures were for the eye. And with this new discovery, we are realizing they might actually be for touch. It makes us think twice about what perception really is.”

This is the first time Kennedy’s work has been part of an international arts festival. But Kennedy and Armagan have already been approached by curators from Poland and the Middle East for similar exhibits. They expect this is just the beginning of Armagan’s emergence into the art world’s consciousness.

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