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Work in progress: Annie Rae’s three-dimensional collage taking shape

Exploring new worlds: compromised perceptions

Erica Smith talks to artist Annie Rae and photographer John Cole as they get ready for their latest show at Hastings Arts Forum.

For all of her working life, Annie Rae has been a professional artist specialising in illustration and printmaking. The visual world has been the focus of her existence. Four years ago, her vision deteriorated rapidly as a result of macular degeneration. “I was angry, frightened, lost and unable to work. I was terrified I was going completely blind. But slowly I gained confidence and began to draw and play with collage. Previously, my work had a lot of detail which now I can’t see or work with. But I haven’t lost my sense of colour and I can play with colours and shapes.”

00JohnandAnnieWhen Annie told photographer John Cole that she wanted to organise an exhibition of new work exploring her sight loss, John laughed and said “Ah, the Blind as a Bat Exhibition?” and jokingly added, “Maybe I should join you with a show called Deaf as a Post?” Annie looked him in the eye and said “Do It!”.

As the result of too many loud concerts through his life, John’s hearing started to deteriorate about ten years ago. Three years ago, after an infection, he lost nearly all of the hearing in his right ear.

It is apparent from talking to Annie and John as they set up the show is that humour has been important in helping them come to terms with their sensory loss. Annie says: “We didn’t want the show to be depressing.” They have included posters and children’s books and eye charts, and John has made a tin-can telephone which visitors to the show will be encouraged to experiment with.


© Annie Rae

Whilst I talked to her, Annie was in the middle of creating a cubist installation – propping up small individual artworks on multiple plinths to create a multi-faceted, multi-media panorama. Eyes are a recurrent symbol within the work – eyes as depicted in drawings from different cultures – sometimes the eyes are enmeshed in the branch-like strands of optic nerves that serve the eye. The other recurrent symbol is the hand: hands grabbing at coloured pencils, or letting business cards drop, as identity and self-confidence is shaken.

She has included different kinds of visual material – different optical problems mean some people can pick up on colour, whilst others can read strongly contrasting black and white – “You can never tell what someone else can see”. There is also a hopper of prints of Annie’s previous work in the gallery space – delicate large scale pencil drawings using subtle patterning and shades of grey. Beautiful as these drawings are, they would be lost to someone struggling with a visual impairment.

As well as visual representations from different cultures, Annie has included japanese poems which cannot be translated literally. There is a also a quote in a giant type size which states: “I have gone to another country where I can neither read or understand the language. So I am on permanent alert, looking for visual clues.”

00SamFinalLayout LowRes

Sam, aged 8. Photo text piece © John Cole

“For this exhibition,” observed John, “I wanted to literally hear what other people with hearing loss felt about their affliction.” John turned to photo-journalism as a medium which allows the subjects of the photographs a voice too. He has used a technique developed by Duane Michals and included the handwritten thoughts of his subjects below the images. He photographed six people (including himself) from 8 to 70 years old who have various degrees of hearing loss. More importantly, subjects have written what they feel about their own loss of hearing. “What is perhaps most surprising is each subjects’ acceptance and even good humour about their situation. I am inspired by their thoughts!”

An insightful thought from John Cole: “Sight gives you the world, but hearing gives you other people.”

Running in parallel to this exhibition, the photography show in the Forum’s Gallery One complements the theme of compromised perception. Photographer Jess Norgrove says: “I was born with mild cerebral palsy, and I have always had a sense that my body does not quite work right. While not immediately obvious to others, I struggle with a puzzling sense of difference from my earliest days. Although I am not consciously aware of the link, I have been drawn to take photographs of objects, buildings and places that are also not quite right – environments that are different from the expected.”

00The-Green-RoomThese stunning large format photographs have been treated so they look almost like illustrations. Jess has travelled far and wide to find spots with a surreal atmosphere. The locations range from England to Chernobyl!

There will be a donation box at the Arts Forum, and all donations will be equally divided between RNIB, National Deaf Children’s Society (NDCS) and SCOPE.

Compromised Perceptions runs from 16-28 May 2017.
There are two Private Views: Wednesday, 17 May and Friday, 19 May
Both Private Views 6:30 to 8:30 pm

Hastings Arts Forum, 36 Marina, St Leonards-on-Sea  TN38 0BU
T: 01424 201 636

To see more work by John Cole visit his website.
To see and hear Annie Rae talk about some of her previous work, follow this link.
To see more work by Jess Norgrove, follow this link.

Posted 23:58 Tuesday, May 16, 2017 In: Arts News

Also in: Arts News

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