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Arentshuis, Brugges, (BE), 21 May to 29 August

The Bruges presentation takes ‘emancipation’ as its central theme. School subjects such as language, mathematics, geography, etc. were amended and taught in different ways over the decades, often in a process of trial and error. Several ‘ambassadors’, former pupils and teachers at Spermalie and elsewhere, share their experiences of these matters with the visitors via audio or film. Reading and writing machines, geographical maps, stuffed animals, counting aids and (last but not least!) a huge globe illustrate how, as a result of these many efforts, the world was put at the fingertips of visually impaired pupils. Olfactory artist Peter de Cupere has been inspired by the search to develop a shared system of writing for the blind to create (in collaboration with a number of visually impaired assistants) an olfactory alphabet. This ties in with the Triennial for Contemporary Art, which also starts in Bruges in May.

Eventually, the advantages of Braille proved decisive and from roughly 1880 onwards it became the standard means of communication for the blind. Since then, Braille tools have undergone a massive evolution, from simple stylus boards via Braille typewriters to the present-day Braille displays for computers.

The 19th century search for a shared writing system for the blind has inspired contemporary artist Peter de Cupere to create a remarkable and sense-stimulating installation especially for ‘The world within reach’. This installation does not appeal to the senses of touch or hearing, but makes use of the sense of smell. He has developed a scent alphabet, which he has called the Olfabet. At Peter’s request, seven people with a visual impairment chose from fifty or so different fragrances, assigning a scent to each letter of the alphabet. On the basis of their choices, Peter developed his Olfabet, which all visitors to the exhibition can now discover and experience.

Peter’s fascinating Olfabet is something between poetry, a game and an experiment. By using the right fragrances, it is possible to make a word or a sentence. After a number of ‘practice lessons’ with your nose, you can form word pictures, just like with the standard alphabet, and also recognise words, rather than reading the letters separately. This is a work of art that offers numerous opportunities for further experimentation. But in the context of the exhibition, it is, above all, a fitting ode to the inventiveness of pioneers like Foucault and Braille.

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