• Dialogue Includes All

Seeing in the Dark

CALVIN KHONG visited Petrosains' latest exhibition "Dialogue in the Dark", and learned how to really 'see'.

Dialogue in the Dark Founder Stevens Chan

"HELLO everyone," says a disembodied voice somewhere in front of you. Or maybe he is beside you. Then he continues "My name is Jo and I will be your guide into the darkness."


The actual word darkness is an understatement when you step into the world of the visually impaired, or blind, even with a cane. What you will see is complete, utter, pitch blackness. Try to raise your hand in front of you face. You won't see it.


"Don't worry, there are no tricks and everything here is exactly the same as in the outside world." assured guide Johan bin Hassan. "If you are scared, disoriented or uncomfortable, just call my name and I will be there to assist you."


This is what you will get when you enter the Dialogue in the Dark (DiD) exhibition of Petrosains, KLCC. But the experience is much more than that.


Imagine, while walking towards the second gallery with your hands feeling the wall, you decide to try your luck with the cane. In less than five steps, you don't realise there is a sharp turning to the left. You then find your face meeting the wall with a loud thump, and you yelp in pain. After the laughter dies down, you hear Jo saying to you, "Just stick to the wall. You have no cane experience."


The DiD exhibition aims to create awareness about the world of the visually impaired by immersing people with the sense of sight in a different reality. The irony is, you, the one with sight, are being led through the three gallery exhibition of darkness by someone who is actually visually impaired. The only that guides you, is the sound of voices.


"Where do you think we are?" Jo asks in the pitch black room filled with sounds of birds and the smell of plants. "A park," someone replies. "Close. In fact, we are in a rainforest. We've got a lot of frogs croaking here, " Jo continues.


The fact is, you aren't really. But being as sensory deprived as you've never been in your liife you might just believe anything at this point. And the room perfectly simulated to the environment of a rainforest with real branches brushing your shoulders.


As the walk goes on, you have to touch walls and railings to move forward until the sounds of a marketplace come to life. The different smells of fruits are everywhere. In order to know what fruits there are, you pick it up and smell it. At that point you realise that everything has its own unique scent. It takes a while, then you suddenly realise you are smelling a pineapple.


Proceeding into the third gallery, Jo warns that a motorcycle is blocking the way in total darkness, it takes you an incredible effort just to walk pass it. You don't know how big it is or how close it is to you.


Once that is over, you reach a café - indicated to you by the feel of the counter. At this point, you expect some light to come on in order for you to pay for your food. It doesn't. You end fumbling with your wallet to grab random notes. Thankfully, the visually impaired cashier is there to assist you. Visionless, you hand her several notes, and she returns the change. You eat the food you purchased. While eating the food purchased, you were given the opportunity to ask Jo any question. Right after the talk was over, you were lead out into the bright lights ahead.


Definitely an experience of new discoveries right within common everyday tasks. DiD Malaysia founder Stevens Chan Kum Fai mentions, "With this new paradigm, guides open the visitors' eyes to show them that the world of the blind, the world of the other, is in no way poorer - just different."


Stevens' life changed in 2002 when he was diagnosed with glaucoma, and eventually lost all his vision in 2007. With the challenges ahead of him, he was determined to educate people and help them to prevent what happened to him from happening to them. He hopes with this programme and through the medium of darkness, people will discover empathy and love and appreciate light along with the eyesight that they are blessed with.


Dialogue in the Dark had its first premier in December of 1988 in Germany and has been presented in more than 30 countries and 130 cities over the years. To date, more than 7 million visitors have experienced this programme which at the same time creates employment opportunities for blind guides and trainers worldwide.


This exhibition will be open to the public in Petrosains, The Discovery Centre, Suria KLCC from Dec 8, 2013 for a period of 6 months until May 2014 before moving to a permanent location at Jaya One.


Source: The Malay Mail Online