Seen – Unseen Collaborator Testamonial
Letter of Support for Clare McLaughlin’s Seen – Unseen programme: Access to Arts in Gallery Spaces
To Whom It May Concern,
My name is Doreen Kieran. I’m 80 years old. In May 2012, I was a busy, healthy, entirely independent 71-yearold, adjusting slowly to recent widowhood, taking care of my 2 beloved grandchildren and very actively involved in my community. But in June 2012, suddenly and unexpectedly, I became visually impaired. As a result of giant cell arteritis, alas, undiagnosed until after the damage had been done, I have no sight whatsoever in one eye; in the other eye, I have 10-15% peripheral vision, affording me some light and shape perception. My daughter is typing this letter for me.
In June 2012, I really could not anticipate a future for myself in my new darkness. The loss of independence was an enormous blow. That I have, to a great extent, adjusted to my impairment and learned to live a full – if radically different – life, is a testament to the expert support of a number of organisations and individuals committed to enriching the lives of visually impaired people. Chief among those organisations is the NCBI – and it was through the NCBI that I first become involved with Clare McLaughlin’s Seen – Unseen Art Project.
In November 2014, with the encouragement of the NCBI, I attended my first Seen – Unseen session in the National Gallery of Ireland, Merrion Square. To be honest, I was reluctant as, before losing my sight, my involvement with the visual arts had been limited to bringing first my children, then my grandchildren to galleries and museums; I had no training in art and believed that it was something for ‘other people’, something I wouldn’t understand. I certainly couldn’t envisage any circumstances under which I – now able to see so little – could possibly engage with art. But how wrong I was! In that first session, using the marvellous tactile templates, I ‘saw’ and ‘felt’ my first Picasso painting! And then we sat down and discussed it! At home that evening, I could describe it to my grandson, who’d been introduced to the same painting during a school visit to the National Gallery and talk with him how Picasso took normal, everyday objects and combined them into wonderful, bizarre amalgams! Since that first session with Clare McLaughlin, I’ve attended interactive sessions and workshops in The Trove, IMMA (Jan 2015), where I walked in a ‘field’ of Ogham Stones and, wearing gloves, felt markings made by 5th/6th Century artists and tried to decipher what they might be saying to us, across the space and silence of 1500 years; return visits to the National Gallery (Sept 2015, March 2016, Jun 2017, Jan 2018); the Crawford Gallery, in Cork (Oct 2015), where by being allowed to feel sculptures I came to a first, amazed appreciation of the mastery of the sculptor in recreating not just the human form, but the desperation of Poseidon and his sons. And, since then, I’ve joined Seen Unseen for events at the Butler Gallery, Kilkenny (Dec 2015), the Douglas Hyde Gallery (Jun 2016), the Glucksman Gallery, Cork (Dec 2016, April 2019), the Douglas Hyde Gallery (Jan 2017, Mar 2018), the Hugh Lane Gallery (Apr 2017), the Crawford Gallery (Feb 2019, May 2019), IMMA (Nov 2018). With Clare’s Seen – Unseen projects, I’ve crossed borders (to the MAC in Belfast, Nov 2017) and seas (to the Birmingham Museum& Art Gallery, April 2018). I’ve joined other visually impaired people in off-shore events, outside of galleries, hosted by Claire, on Sherkin Island in May 2016 and on Cape Clear in August 2018. Even COVID hasn’t stopped Clare’s Seen Unseen activities: in November 2020 I’ve participated in online (Zoom) sessions with both VOID, Derry and the Crawford Gallery, Cork.
Through Clare McLaughlin’s Seen – Unseen, I have had the chance to explore another world, a world I’d never even known existed when I was sighted and which I would simply have assumed was inaccessible to me as a visually impaired person. I have engaged with living artists and their work; I’ve discovered artistic treasures in Irish cross-border and UK museums and galleries, staffed by enthusiasts who want everyone to know and enjoy their collections. The sessions are also an opportunity to meet with others with different levels of visual impairment, to hear their interpretation.
My only regret is that more people don’t know about and have the opportunity to engage with – and be enriched, in so very many ways, by Seen – Unseen.
Artist Clare Mc Laughlin