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Beyond the Visual: Non-Sighted Modes of Engaging Art

A woman interacting with an installation
A woman interacting with an installation
From Dust to Dust - Fayen d’Evie, Aaron McPeake, Andy Slater, Anna Seymour, Pippa Samaya, Ilana Gelbart, Jaycob Campbell. Castlemaine State Festival, Old Castlemaine Hospital

A forum for the discussion of non-sighted modes of beholding contemporary art.

Project duration: November 2021 - January 2023
Funded by: AHRC (UKRI)

Project summary

The research network will act as a forum for the discussion of non-sighted modes of beholding art, within the context of situated forms of contemporary art practice. Challenging established museum conventions, it will question how a shift in the aesthetic engagement afforded by hybrid forms of contemporary art opens up new engagements for the partially sighted and blind community.

The network aims to develop a deeper understanding of the spatial and curatorial possibilities of such forms of engagement, and their potential application beyond the world of contemporary art. Addressing where the criticality lies in non-sighted modes of engagement, the proposition is that the engagement afforded a blind or visually impaired audience should be every bit as complex as that of sighted beholders. The network will draw upon disciplinary insights from cognitive science and psychology, the philosophy of art, art and architectural practice, and critical disability studies.

Project team

Project aims

  • To investigate how the shift in aesthetic engagement afforded by hybrid forms of contemporary art (such as installation art) potentially opens up new multi-sensory possibilities for engaging a blind and partially sighted audience, while enhancing the experience of a sighted audience.
  • To rethink narrow definitions of disability access by investigating no/low vision encounters with ‘visual’ art at a philosophical, physiological and phenomenological level.
  • To connect academic research around issues of non-sighted modes of beholding art with non-academic fields (institutions and individuals) in order to identify research questions and opportunities for future, tangible projects that impact directly upon gallery and museum design, policy and curatorial practice.


This research network will facilitate an exchange of ideas that engages interdisciplinary thinking on the phenomenology of the non- or partially-sighted engagement of art. Crucially, it will engage the blind and partially sighted community and organisations that promote cultural opportunities for this audience, and those within institutions enacting policy around inclusion and access to (and the design of) museum/gallery environments. The network will coalesce around three themed workshops on the issue of enhancing non-sighted modes of beholding art, culminating in a two-day symposium with keynote national and international speakers, plus a refereed call for papers. The network will operate within a Social Model of Disability, where people are not considered 'disabled' because of impairment, but rather through physical and attitudinal barriers in society (thus placing responsibility on relevant institutions to implement constructive change by removing barriers to participation).


  • Tate – Marcus Dickey-Horley (Curator of Access Projects at Tate)
  • Henry Moore Institute, Leeds – Laurence Sillars (Head of the Henry Moore Institute) and Clare O’Dowd (Research Curator HMI)
  • VocalEyes – Anna Fineman (Museums, Galleries and Heritage Programme Manager)
  • Shape Arts – Jeff Rowlings (Head of Programme, Shape Arts)
  • The DisOrdinary Architecture Project – Jos Boys and Zoe Partington (Founders of The DisOrdinary Architecture Project)