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Beyond the Visual: Blindness and Expanded Sculpture

Dr Ken Wilder and Dr Aaron McPeake (University of the Arts London) join forces with Dr Clare O’Dowd (Henry Moore Institute) and Shape Arts for ground-breaking research to enhance blind people’s experience of art in museums.

A splayed hand touching a bronze plate with lines of single black letters recessed into it. The letters are from a Snellen eye test chart and reduce in size from top to bottom.
  • Beyond the Visual: Blindness and Expanded Sculpture awarded the first Arts and Humanities Research Council’s Exhibition Fund of £250,000.
  • This three-year project will feature a research season and public engagement events.
  • It will culminate with a landmark 2025 exhibition at the Henry Moore Institute, foregrounding work by blind and partially blind artists.
  • Working with Shape Arts, the project will generate the first international database of blind and partially blind sculptural artists.

We are thrilled to announce our collaboration with Dr Ken Wilder, University of the Arts London (UAL) Reader in Spatial Design and Dr Aaron McPeake, artist and Associate Lecturer at Chelsea College of Arts, in our ground-breaking project, Beyond the Visual: Blindness and Expanded Sculpture. The project is the recipient of the Arts and Humanities Research Council’s (AHRC) inaugural Exhibition Fund, a major £250,000 grant supporting innovative, collaborative exhibition approaches. The project culminates with a major exhibition and research season at the Henry Moore Institute in Leeds, the UK’s leading centre for the study of sculpture and, together with Chelsea College of Arts and Shape Arts, one of the project’s partner organisations. Shape Arts will provide invaluable insights on artist selection and exhibition accessibility. Working with the researchers’ extensive network, the project will generate the first international database of blind and partially blind sculptural artists.

Beyond the Visual will explore engagements with contemporary sculpture using senses other than sight, challenging the dominance of sight in the making and appreciation of art. The three-year project will culminate in a free exhibition at the Henry Moore Institute, opening in November 2025. Integral to the participatory nature of the project are extensive public engagement activities, both before and during the exhibition. This will include a research season at the Henry Moore Institute, running from October 2024 until March 2025.

A ring of metal, roughly 30cm in diameter, hanging on a loop of string. A hand is steadying the ring, while a second hand is poised to strike it with a small, square hammer.
Aaron McPeake, 'Once I Saw it All' 2022.
A splayed hand touching a bronze plate with lines of single black letters recessed into it. The letters are from a Snellen eye test chart and reduce in size from top to bottom.
Aaron McPeake, 'Once I Saw it All' 2022, bell bronze (casting of Snellen Chart).

This landmark exhibition will mark the first major UK-based sculpture showcase predominantly featuring works by blind or partially blind artists within a national institution and is rare in having a blind curator as intrinsic to the project.

Central to Beyond the Visual is the connection between Dr Ken Wilder and Dr Aaron McPeake, who is registered blind. The two artists have been collaborating for nearly two decades since they first met during their PhD studies at Chelsea College of Arts. Together, they question the assumption that art appreciation and creation are confined to those with full visual perception. Previously, they spearheaded an AHRC-funded network (with partners The Henry Moore Institute and Shape Arts) exploring non-sighted modes of engaging art, culminating in a public symposium hosted by London’s Wellcome Collection. The upcoming exhibition at the Henry Moore Institute will draw upon the collective knowledge of this multi-disciplinary network.

Dr Ken Wilder, Reader in Spatial Design at Chelsea College of Arts said: “I’m looking forward to co-curating Beyond the Visual with Dr McPeake and Henry Moore Institute Research Curator Dr Clare O’Dowd, in investigating the role that touch, sound, smell and proprioception – the perception or awareness of the position and movement of the body – play in engaging with sculpture. We want to ensure the exhibition offers a complete experience to the beholder, enhancing tactile and non-visual sensory interactions with the various artworks. Whilst blind and partially blind people have been identified as a primary audience, the exhibition is not intended only for the blind but open to all. Instead, it aims to not exclude an audience that is often marginalised by exhibitions in which visitors are not able to touch or interact with the works.”

Professor Christopher Smith, AHRC Executive Chair said: “As audiences and venues change, and as we seek to be more inclusive and bring our culture to everyone, the nature of how we stage and curate exhibitions needs to evolve. This project will unlock fresh ways for different and often overlooked audiences to experience our historical and cultural heritage, ensuring its value can be fully appreciated by many more people, but they will also inform all of our exhibition making. This represents another step in AHRC’s commitment to equality, diversity and inclusion and to supporting our brilliant and innovative museums and galleries.”

Laurence Sillars, Head of the Henry Moore Institute, emphasised the project’s significance: “As one of the major centres for the study of sculpture internationally, it is vital that we ensure a consideration of sculpture and its histories from the perspective of all makers and audiences alike. This urgent collaborative project will involve extensive consultation and we’re excited to embed this learning not only in the exhibition itself but long into the future.” 

Jeff Rowlings, Head of Programme, Shape Arts, adds: “Beyond the Visual, in crystalising much needed research into exhibition form, promises to channel the agency of blind and partially sighted practitioners in exciting and varied ways. We are delighted to support its progress, and look forward to the opportunities it affords around new curatorial approaches and audience experiences.

The exhibition Beyond the Visual will open at the Henry Moore Institute in November 2025 and run until March 2026 and will be accompanied by an extensive public engagement programme. Further updates on all stages of the project will be announced in due course.

For media inquiries and more information, please contact:

 

Sara Parsons, Internal and External Communications Manager
Chelsea, Camberwell and Wimbledon Colleges of Arts
University of the Arts London
s.parsons@arts.ac.uk

Kara Chatten, Marketing and Communications Manager
Henry Moore Institute
kara.chatten@henry-moore.org

Sophie Balfour-Lynn, Senior Account Director
Sutton
SophieBL@suttoncomms.com

Jeff Rowlings, Head of Programme
Shape Arts
jeff@shapearts.org.uk

 

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Notes to editors

 

About the curators Dr Ken Wilder, Dr Aaron McPeake and Dr Clare O’Dowd

Dr Ken Wilder

Dr Ken Wilder is an academic, artist and writer. He is the Reader in Spatial Design, based at Chelsea College of Arts, part of University of the Arts London.

Wilder makes site-responsive sculptural installations, sometimes including video projection. He has exhibited widely in the UK, and also exhibited in Germany, Ukraine, Sweden and China. He was artist-in-residence for Coram, the leading children’s charity; in 2016, he installed Skylights, a site-specific installation within the London Foundling mortuary, Bloomsbury.

Wilder has written extensively on the aesthetics of reception. His monograph Beholding: Situated Art and the Aesthetics of Reception was published in 2020 by Bloomsbury. He has had articles published in the British Journal of Aesthetics, Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism, Aesthetics Investigations, Moving Image Review & Art Journal, Estetika: The European Journal of Aesthetics, Architecture and Culture, Theatre and Performance Design, Image [&] Narrative. He has written a chapter on the ‘Freee Art Collective’, published in Manifesto Now! (London: Intellect, 2013), and a chapter, ‘The Configurational Encounter and the Problematic of Beholding’, in Malcolm Quinn (ed.) The Persistence of Taste: Art, Museums and Everyday Life After Bourdieu (London and New York: Routledge, 2016).

Dr Aaron McPeake

In 2002, McPeake had to abandon a long career in stage lighting design due to the loss of most of his eyesight and returned to arts education and practice on a full-time basis. He has been awarded a first-class Honours Degree in Arts, Design and Environment from Central Saint Martins (2005), Post-Graduate Certificate Learning and Teaching (2011) and a PhD from Chelsea (2012).

His PhD thesis, Nibbling at Clouds – The Visual Artist Encounters Aventitious Blindness, is an holistic study of the impacts vision loss has on the visual artist. The thesis draws on the experiences of a panel of artists (who lost eyesight in later life) and includes his own experience as well as how he has developed his own practice.

Dr Clare O’Dowd

Dr Clare O’Dowd is Research Curator at the Henry Moore Institute, where she leads the Institute’s sculpture research programme of events, fellowships and exhibitions. She received her PhD in from the University of Manchester in 2013, where she was Lecturer in Twentieth-Century Art History prior to joining the Institute in 2019.

Her research and curatorial interests focus on the histories of sculpture, particularly sculpture’s relationship to the experience of modernity and the ways in which artistic practices relate to broader issues of social change.

About the organisations

About University of the Arts London

University of the Arts London (UAL) offers an extensive range of courses in art, design, fashion, communication and performing arts. Graduates have gone on to work in and shape the creative industries worldwide. UAL is ranked second in the world for Art and Design in the 2023 QS World University Rankings by Subject.

The University has a world-class reputation and is made up of six equally renowned colleges and five institutes: Camberwell College of Arts, Central Saint Martins, Chelsea College of Arts, London College of Communication, London College of Fashion, Wimbledon College of Arts, AKO Storytelling Institute, UAL Creative Computing Institute, UAL Decolonising Arts Institute and UAL Fashion, Textiles and Technology Institute.

arts.ac.uk

About Chelsea College of Arts

Chelsea College of Arts, UAL is one of London’s most prestigious art and design colleges, with a worldwide reputation for producing some of the leading artists and designers. Chelsea College of Arts is focused on inspiring graduates to apply their practice to the social, cultural and political effects of globalisation.

Chelsea College of Arts provides students with a stimulating space and supportive atmosphere, so that they can test ideas and break new creative ground. They are based in a Grade II listed building alongside the River Thames and Tate Britain in Central London. They challenge students every day to be at the forefront of practice, to develop new global networks, and to drive forward innovative cross-cultural solutions.

arts.ac.uk/colleges/chelsea-college-of-arts

About Shape Arts

Shape Arts is a disability-led organisation breaking barriers to creative excellence. They deliver a range of projects supporting marginalised artists, as well as training cultural venues to be more inclusive and accessible for disabled people as employees, artists and audiences. All of Shape’s work is informed by the Social Model of Disability.

Running alongside this portfolio is the NLHF funded National Disability Movement Archive and Collection, a radical collecting and retelling of the Disability Rights Movement’s heritage story that builds on their delivery of the National Disability Arts Collection and Archive, a £1-million digital archive chronicling the history of disability arts in the UK, available to the public at the-ndaca.org.

Among other programmes, Shape’s flagship artist award, The Adam Reynolds Award, is a high quality development opportunity which they have been delivering in partnership with leading cultural locations and galleries across the country for more than a decade.

shapearts.org.uk

About the Arts and Humanities Research Council Exhibition Fund

The pilot opportunity is intended to support the development of exhibitions co-created and co-designed by collaborative teams from across a sector including higher education institutions, independent research organisations, and galleries, libraries, archives and museums.

The fund encourages innovative and creative approaches to delivering exhibitions with public engagement programmes that are grounded in arts and humanities research.

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