Have you ever wondered how books for blind or visually impaired children designed? Have they images?
Elisa Molino will explain it to us. She is a young artist originating from the province of Asti and president of “Associazione ConTatto”, which is taking care of blind and visually impaired children and of their families.
Elisa, tell us about your career path.
I attended the artistic high school in Asti, then moved to Turin in order to attend the Albertina Academy of Fine Arts. I chose painting as I was dreaming to be an artist to all intents and purposes. Things changed especially because, by attending the academy, I realized that this wasn’t my world. There was too much competition, disrespect, spite, and an artistic communication that I felt was an end in itself.
Anyway, I graduated in 2013 and I undertook a master degree in graphics, but I had some reservations. In 2015 I realized definitively that this wasn’t the right path for me; I felt I could not take anything more from it. I took a time-out and I decided to start one year of civil service. I admit it, I decided it with little awareness, it was just to do something after deciding to drop the Academy. During the voluntary civil service I started following the path that got me here where I am now.
Where did you do the voluntary civil service?
At the Passepartout Service in the City of Turin, a division of the social services which deals with physical, motor and sensory disabilities. That experience gave me straight away the opportunity to discover many realities of the territory. The real discovery was another one: I met people with histories similar to mine, people with different disabilities, with careers and personal paths of a great value. These experiences opened up my eyes to a world, not only on a professional level but above all on a personal one…
So, other than the professional one, there was a personal path going on parallel…
I am albino, therefore I have a sensory disability (Albinism consist in the organic and global lack of the pigment melanin; this leads to the peculiar aesthetic characteristics and risks for the skin to sun exposure, but also to visual photophobia. This is due to a lack of melanin in the iris and choroids, for which the eye cannot calibrate the entry of the light for the medium and long distance vision: often there are nystagmus and astigmatism N.d.r.).
I always lived with it but with zero awareness and, if yes, I felt it in a very different way from now. As teenager I was often in a bad mood and a bit ashamed… for example, I avoided eye examinations in order to not to be compared to them. My luck was to always find very creative tricks for my everyday life and for the artistic practice. It may seem a paradoxon that I was painting, but I always found a way, also to paint models far away from my painting station. These tricks were mostly a way for avoiding any sort of internal critics. What I was thinking as teenager was: if it can be seen that I have a problem it is better to hide and to camouflage it, otherwise there will be mockeries, social denigration and bullying. And if mockeries came it was easy to think that I was wrong and to feel ashamed.
It is since I started the civil service and this path in the social that I stopped believing this and I stopped hiding my sensory disability and to feel ashamed. I transformed this very disability in a competence!
I am visually impaired and I can transform this condition in a skill to use for my work, in service of the recipients of our association, whether they have the same disability or a similar one. While creating a tactile book or school material for visually impaired children, or even in replicating an art work in its tactile version I use a knowledge I am very aware of, being visually impaired myself. For example, I know very well how a bright red can be annoying for the eyes and for the photosensitivity of a visually impaired person which relates to a product. This is a knowledge I have in first person and which I take into account while designing and realizing a project, along with all the tactile precautions necessary. To work for disability having a disability is an added value in my job and in the job of the Association. Having an insight of the situation and of its need becomes a fundamental creative skill in order to have a suitable, truly accessible and inclusive artistic result.
Since we are talking about it can you tell us more in detail with what deals your association?
ConTatto, with which I did a part of my civil service and of which I then became president, deals with typhlology (science that studies the conditions and problems of people with visual disabilities in order to indicate solutions to implement their full social and cultural integration, A.D.R) and typhlodidactics (studying the problems of people with visual disabilities in the sphere of study, A.D.R). It is in the social services division dedicated to sensory disabilities in the City of Turin. We lend school material to blind or visually impaired students for every order and grade. Kids and parents can have access to the laboratory and choose according to their needs; the loan is free and the materials can be given back at the end of the school year. If necessary we also create ad hoc materials. However, we keep the artistic part especially for the workshop. We have a real artistic workshop where we design tactile books for children. We chose a book, we write a summary of the story (according to the age of the recipient) and we make a sort of screenplay, where the pages have a written part (for parents or adults who read) and a tactile part for the kids to touch. We eventually also add braille print.
The tactile part is the one where I found a way to combine the art with technical and personal competences: the purpose is to create images in order to involve the kid in the story. For people who sees, reading a book while watching drawings means just that: imagine places, characters, creating a mental image. How can a kid create this mental image? Through touch. For this reason, in a tactile book a tree will not be recreated with a drawing, lines and shades of colour for barks and leaves, but the image of a tree will be given through a piece of bark (perhaps also real) and something smooth, with groovings, as are the leaves when you touch them. For a blind child a tree is a mix of tactile sensations, for a kid who can see it is a mix of visual sensations. The challenge is in translating the visual into tactile. There is always a creative process behind, always very exciting, because for certain images I have to be ingenious and to find something which is the most similar and realistic to the touch… We cannot always use real materials in the books. A few years ago we designed a book about marine animals and we could definitely not use seaweed or fishbones! Other than creating tactile sensation the artistic process has also the purpose of knowledge and exploration. Often we design images that can be “moved” throughout the page, from one corner to the other, in order to recreate the dynamic of the story.
Which is the project you are more satisfied about?
My favourite work is the tactile creation of “The Wolf who visited Fairytales”. It represents both a personal and an artistic success. Along with it we planned workshops for children with sensory disabilities and not, with a view to inclusion. We are in a working group (which is called Colorandia and includes 4 associations in the area) who works with children with and without disabilities, with inclusion activities where the kids without disabilities are included, not on the other way around. In practice, we organized some meetings whose fil rouge was the story of “The Wolf who visited Fairytales” and we started activities on the senses: we did not do any activity related to the sight, it was about empowering the other four sense and we focused on the touch, in order that blind and not blind children could discover together materials and feelings, and created mental images starting from our creations, without any situation of diversity. On educational and experiential level it has served both to strengthen the other senses and to put oneself in the shoes of others.
So art has a place in social work?
Yes, absolutely. When I gave at disposal my artistic talent in the social sphere I found my place, I felt how it completes my desire to communicate through art and I found a union between my artistic education and my personality. Art has a lot of room in the social field, especially if it can follow personal inclinations (as in my case) and it can open inclusive channels of communication. Often, during workshops, I welcomed many curiosities of parents of blind or visually impaired children. They asked me about my career path, about my awarenesses and the possibilities I have created for myself (along with the fortuitous ones I found on my artistic path). As an adult with disabilities I can support the parents in imagining a positive path for their children and the possibility of following the own path regardless of everything. Thinking of my path I always say to the parents that every child has its own time. It is not a competition, it is about living one’s individuality with full participation, giving space to our characteristics and giving opportunity to our talents to express themselves, regardless of our abilities or the conditions in which we present ourselves to the world.
Polemica, a volte; troppo concentrata su cosa succede nel mondo, spesso; piena di dubbi, sempre.