Imagine a life without any light — nothing but darkness. You would hear a car approaching without knowing what it looks like. Reading this article itself would not be possible. It is the reality that millions of blind or visually impaired people around the world go through daily. It is a reality that most of us will never experience, but it is something that we can experience through an exhibition — Dialogue in the Dark. The exhibition was originally designed by Dr. Andreas Heinecke, who wanted to understand his friend who suddenly became visually impaired.
Unlike other exhibitions that involve only passive experiences through visual art, this extraordinary experience grants you the opportunity to interact with pure darkness with all of your senses but sight.
The visitors are separated into groups of eight people and brought up to the second-floor elevator to “see” what the exhibition is about. Once I entered the pure darkness that waited behind a curtain, I could not tell if my eyes were open or not due to the absence of light. The only thing that guided my step forward was a walking stick and the wall by my side. A comforting voice welcomed us and asked for our names. The guide gave us time to get comfortable with the dark before the 90-minute journey. In the first few steps, we were overwhelmed with fear and excitement by the dark corridor that awaited in front of us.
In each room, you let your imagination guide you through what is around you. We started off with a gentle walk in the park. Birds were singing, and we heard water running by us. The guide warned us not to trip or else we would fall into the water. Everyone used their sticks to check lest they walk around in the darkness for the next hour with their socks wet. “There is no water actually. I wanted you guys to understand the daily difficulties the blind and the visually impaired go through,” the guide said.
We then sat on a “boat” that moved and splashed water, similar to a 4D motion ride at theaters. Although I knew in my head that the boat was probably not real, the lack of vision and control of my body to react to the change in motion led to a thrilling experience.
After exploring a busy market and guessing its products, we entered a café where a manager was waiting for us. Everyone was then given a canned drink to guess what it was. It was not quite as easy as I thought it would be because we lacked the experience of deciding what to drink without knowing any information about it, including its name or a picture. I got more and more frustrated with every sip as my body recognized what it was but my head didn’t. When the manager told me the answer, I was shocked to find out what it was. I have had this drink every month and yet I still could not identify it by its taste and smell.
The most memorable part of the trip was its end. The guide gave us time to ask any questions about the exhibition. We were all curious about how he could navigate in the dark, and we asked if he was wearing any special device to see us. “Actually,” he said calmly, “I don’t see anything either. I am visually impaired and I am slightly more aware of my senses than you guys. The whole point of the tour is for everyone, visually impaired or not, to be equal.” No one saw it coming. After returning to a friendly world outside the building, I became speechless. I started to understand why Dr. Andreas Heinecke started this project. Everyone experienced exactly what the person guiding us felt daily. It gave us the opportunity to not only thank what we are gifted with, but also understand the fact that the visually impaired and the blind aren’t different from us.
I want to thank a friend who recommended this exhibition to me. It was the expected choice of the type of kind-hearted person the friend is. Greed often pushes us over our limits to acquire what we do not possess. In an extremely competitive environment such as KAIST, I guess I forgot what my friend used to drill in my head: “We sometimes need to take a break to appreciate what we have and think about what we can give, rather than what we can take from others. Everyone can be happier this way, you know. Don’t stress yourself out too much!”