Media Releases

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

January 19, 2011

TORONTO, ON — 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.


For more infor­ma­tion, please con­tact:

Karen Ho
UTSC Media and Com­mu­ni­ca­tions