Just as its title would indicate, Imagined Touch is uncertain and fleeting. Over 20 minutes, Heather Lawson and Michelle Stevens seek to reframe disability, specifically deaf blindness, by bringing the audience into their parallel world and allowing them to experience the unique intimacy and beauty of their space.
After gearing up with goggles and headphones, we observe an instruction video from Lawson and Stevens; rules for entering the environment. This is very much a warm invitation delivered with humour and lightness, that asks for mutual respect. Intention clear and earnest to share their own way of navigating the space, immediately fosters a trust and excitement to learn a language of touch and connection too readily ignored by those that are not deaf blind.
Led and left in a white space indistinguishably blurred by the goggles, whilst Madeleine Flynn’s and Tim Humphrey’s electronic soundscape oscillates ear to ear intermittently, we are initially given the freedom to wander, passing each other’s bodies as rungs of a ladder to no know destination. Lost, and beginning to distinguish the whispers of every hand on skin.
Within this section I found myself at the edge of the room, running my fingers along the white screen. Both Lawson and Stevens perform throughout, leading and guiding the audience. Perhaps I had slipped through, though as soon as what was once spaceless regained its firm parameters I was abruptly pulled out of their carefully curated world.
Finding my way back to the centre, distinct sections follow one after another, almost mechanical. This is my key frustration with Imagined Touch; I always felt on the brink of something, an understanding. Yet the inability to explore and linger in my own time undoubtedly prevented this. Maybe that was the point.
Despite the sense of moving through the motions, what I found in those moments of spinning around with a stranger or jumping and dancing in a circle of held hands was personal and indescribable; incompletely defined best as detached joy.
In the discourse for the social construct of disability, the work gently makes its very solid point through first hand learning. It is an alternative, not a variation of. Triumphant in its intent to reposition what it means to be deaf-blind through participatory experience: the view from a different window of a skyscraper.
Imagined Touch is playing Barbican until 11 November. For more information and tickets, click here.