The Belgian participants under the supervision of Professor Marion Beernaerts chose as starting point the non-seeing body in space. On that basis they developed on the border of art and industrial design strategies and objects aiming to counteract the disorientation provoked by blindness. During the workshop these strategies and objects were experienced and discussed by seeing as well as non-seeing participants.
La Cambre, Belgium’s most forward-thinking design academy, was established in 1927 by architect Henry van der Velde and is located South-East of Brussels on the idyllic grounds of an eponymous 13th century monastery. Its covering of numerous disciplines, ranging from impression and painting to interior and fashion design, has secured the institution an international reputation of excellence.
Marion Beernaerts, La Cambre Professor for Industrial Design, supervises the third creation workshop of BEYOND SEEING. Being an active designer herself, Beernaerts encourages her students to constantly rethink established concepts and to innovate in creating new ones, without ever losing touch with the materiality of the creational process.
Jean-Luc Pening is the other patron figure of the Brussels workshop. This Belgian bioengineer, blind ever since having been involved in a shooting in 1995, dedicates his time to coaching people to overcome their fears and accomplish the challenges they set for themselves. The workshop is launched with an exercise of partner dancing in which the two dancers (here Jean-Luc and Francine) are interconnected through plastic rings, underlining the fact that we perceive our environment depending on what we wear and carry with us.
With its focus on industrial design, the third workshop also concentrates increasingly on the body, its movement and its exploration of surrounding spaces. A white piece of cloth, hanging across the room like a curtain, welcomes the bodies of the participants whose contours press through the soft surface as they brush against it. Using touch to guess the forms on the other side of the textile, participants learn to rediscover parts of their bodies through the mediation of this “second skin”.
Emphasis is put on the design of objects as extensions of the body to explore the surrounding space. Jean-Luc points out the problem of risking to constantly bump into obstacles that most visually impaired people struggle with.
With his support, the La Cambre students thus construct a pair of circular and largely extended shoulder pads which enables the wearer to move his upper body around safely.
Other designs in turn transform human bodies into bird-like winged creatures and metal-clawed cyborgs of the future. In a last experiment, a giant inflated plastic handrail guides participants through the room, clinging to their bodies and accompanying their discovery of the space.
“Objects accompany us all throughout our life, some of them are ephemeral and some of them are like companions. Design is made by humans, for humans.” Elisa, participant and La Cambre student
“This food for thought might be the beginning of a bigger global awareness towards disabilities.” Yann, participant and La Cambre student