The Head

The Head

Social media platforms have been touted in popular press as the most transformative and revolutionary type of communication technologies in the 21st-century. Often framed in Utopian terms, these web-based services are thought to enable individuals to connect with each other in ways that have the potential of dismantling old power hierarchies. The promises of these new channels for transmitting information have shaped the creation, display and distribution of art: in addition to using social media tools to keep in touch with their real and virtual bases of observers, artists also make artworks with these technologies. However, the most popular social media platforms are designed for certain kinds of interaction. For people with physical disabilities, accessibility to these tools can be severely limited. These internet-based channels for sharing and exchange are thus not as barrier-free as they are often made out to be.

“The Head” explores the limits of social media tools as they are used by people who are blind. It is an attempt by sculptor Victor Tan Wee Tar to bring his art to the virtual spaces of the Internet where it can be seen by both sighted and blind observers. Tan, who is visually impaired, focusses his art practice on creating 3D forms with metal wires, doing so primarily by touch. As such, his works have a strong tactile dimension. To experience this dimension of Tan’s art, however, an observer needs to be in the same physical space as the artwork. “The Head” looks into the possibilities of how this art can be experienced in the virtual spaces of the Internet.

Central to “The Head” is a large wire sculpture in the shape of a human head (medium: 316 stainless steel and rod, dimensions: 115 x 102 x 148 cm). Victor Tan begins the creative process with a wire frame, paying close attention to scale and proportion. He then strengthens it with thick wires before weaving in finer ones. Like creepers seeking anchor points, the wires extends across gaps, giving the surface of the sculpture an appearance that may seem chaotic to the sighted observer, but will “make sense” to someone who explores it by touch.

Observers are asked to interact with the sculpture. Specifically, they are invited to place their bodies inside the wire frame head. With the aid of accessibility features on his phone camera, Tan takes photographs of the interactions, creating digital documents of the event. He then broadcasts the pictures on Twitter, and asks those whose photos have just been tweeted to respond with Tweet descriptions of what they see. These written descriptions allow Tan, as well as blind observers of the work, to experience the photographs. The pictures are uploaded to a Tumblr page, where they are stored for future viewing.

As it is currently set up, “The Head” is a work-in-progress that will likely change in response to observer feedback and “user experience” of the Internet tools. Other than Victor Tan, “The Head” involves the collaborative work of artist Teow Yue Han and writer and researcher Yow Siew Kah, the former conceptualises and executes the social media dimension of the work, while the latter will provide written updates.

Written by : Yow Siew Kah

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