What will you see at this exhibition? Well, nothing. Not even your hand in front of your face. I can’t even tell you what the exhibition rooms contain, because that would spoil all the fun. I can tell you though that taking your first steps into the darkness is pretty scary…
The Invisible Exhibition at Prague’s New Town Hall is designed to give visitors a taste of what everyday life is like without sight. It has turned out to be an immensely popular installation; originally meant to run for only a few months last year, it has now been extended until at least April 2013. The original Budapest Invisible Exhibition was extended four times before being made permanent, and it looks like the same thing could happen here.
“There are no stairs, there is nothing on the floor – there are no ghosts!” Out in the hallway, the exhibition’s organisers prepared us to enter the first room. We left everything we owned in a locker – except for some spare change, as instructed – and didn’t quite know what to expect.
Our guide was waiting for us on the other side of the thick curtains as we stepped cautiously into the unknown. The tour consists of seven different rooms, and you’re guided through them by a blind or partially-sighted person. We later found out that the first small room – where you will meet your guide and find your footing before the tour really starts – was where some visitors realise they are really afraid of the dark, or start to feel claustrophobic or nauseous. Whilst a little disoriented and unnerved we continued on through the next doorway, to our first task: finding the doorbell of the “flat” we were about to enter, under our guide’s instructions.
We came across everything from common household objects to a particular type of car and famous works of art, making our way tentatively through the rooms, as well as encountering such suddenly challenging scenarios as walking along the street, crossing a bridge and finally having a coffee in a café bar – Ok, so I didn’t quite get all my milk and sugar into the cup, but I’ve done worse when half-awake first thing in the morning.
Paying the bill was another difficulty – being so used to relying on sight, I’ve hardly ever given a thought to the size and shape of different coins before.
“The idea is to show people what life is like in the dark. They will experience first-hand the pitfalls and annoyances which they perceive as completely normal,” says the organiser, as we re-emerge blinking and squinting into the now unbearably bright light, suddenly feeling very fortunate to see anything at all.
Once your eyes re-adjust you’ll see your guide for the first time. This is said to be intentional, demonstrating that you may have already formed your own ideas about your guide’s appearance during the tour, based only on their voice. I was surprised to find I’d done exactly that: I’d unconsciously built up a mental picture of everything from her height to her hair colour – and I was completely wrong about all of it!
After the tour you can check out the “resource” room, where you’ll find more information as well as have chance to see and use items such as the speaking clock or the Braille typewriter, which looked impossible to use at first – “It’s easy!” our guide insisted, and after a quick demonstration I could hardly tear myself away. You can even put on a blindfold and play modified versions of games like chess or snakes and ladders, which have different-shaped rather than different-coloured pieces, textured boards and dice with raised dots.
This was an experience that will stay with me for a long time, and – despite the surprise addition of 100kc for the tour being in English – it was well worth the ticket price. An hour in the dark gave us a new appreciation of our sight and an understanding of what everyday life would be like without it.