‘Access Is A State Of Mind’ September/October 1997

Submitted by root on Sun, 12/16/2012 - 20:03

Celebrating Access For All at the Blackie Gallery.

"It's a breath of fresh air to walk into an art gallery and experience an exhibition as this, which renews a sense of consciousness to all the senses and awakens our child like curiosity in a world where we can sometimes lose our sense of fun."   - Patrick O'Reilly, Art Student.

'Access Is A State Of Mind' was conceived by Audrey Melville Barker, with artworks by Mark Chesters, Robert Chesters and Alan Foley. It was installed at the Blackie by Eddie Berry and Wendy Harpe

The installation of the exterior and interior ramps in 1995, courtesy of the 'Foundation for Sport and the Arts', enabled direct access to the Blackie Gallery providing the basis for initiatives and collaborations with disabled artists and involvement with disabled people and organisations.

Ramp access    Blackie Ramp

Audrey Melville Barker's commission supported by Channel 4, North West Arts Board and Liverpool City Council, to celebrate the Blackie's move into greater accessibility resulted in a multi-sensory installation. It was both a celebration of disability arts/arts and disability and the public launch for the gallery's ramped access.  

Access Is A State of Mind consisted of five installations (rooms), See, Hear, Smell, Touch and Taste. Each room offered opportunities to explore, reflect upon and experience one particular sense.

More than two hundred individual artworks were laid out or displayed for the involvement of visitors who were invited not only to see, but to touch, smell, hear, taste and think! This invitation was taken up enthusiastically by children and adults of all ages who enjoyed mixing 'doing' with 'viewing', the adults recognising the sophistication lying behind both the context and content of the installations.

"We came, we saw, we smelt, we heard, we tasted, we touched, we conquered, we experienced access with excess" - Gallery visitors.

The Rooms


The 'Sight' room was a space full of coloured glasses, screens with peep-holes, magnifiers, prisms and lenses allowing people to distort, play with and focus on their sense of  Sight. Stained glass, mirrored boxes and distorting blocks with images were displayed.

Spectacles, magnifiers and kaleidoscopes were suspended in order for the participant to view the world from a different perspective. Panels of illusions were on show and a table full of books and images on display.



In the 'Hear' room bells, poems and feathers were  suspended from the ceiling and the floor was covered with bubble-pack and dried leaves.There were chimes and thunder flaps, musical instruments and a wall of paper strips being blown by a fan.                                                                                                    


Life-sized animals, a horse, a badger, a fox and a giant rabbit also adorned the room. On entering the 'Hear' room visitors could hear with each footstep crackling leaves and popping bubbles. Visitors could take a rest on a pillow that popped as you sat down and listen to the gentle sound of running water and wind rustling paper.




In the garden room there were over 30 bottles and bags containing smells, such as spices and lavender, which had been suspended from the ceiling of the Gallery. Participants were invited to 'smell' their way through these hanging bottles all filled with different scents.  Each morning before opening the exhibition these hanging scents were checked for their 'smelliness'.


Picking up a pair of blackened goggles and using touch, participants were invited 'see' a way around a wall of sculptural pictures.  Floor trays were filled with two or three combinations of the following; sand, water, plastic, gravel, stones and metal or sawdust. 


In the 'Taste' room there was a wall of raining jelly babies and six bowls which contained different edible white powders such as salt and sugar. A shelf of primary coloured jellies and bottles of lemon and lime juice were also waiting to tempt and test the taste buds. Four panels were covered in Braille paper which had been soaked in lemon juice, white vinegar, sugar water and peppermint which visitors were encouraged to try.


One of the most successful elements of the installation was the accessibility of the artist herself.  Visitors were able to communicate with Audrey Barker by means of a fax machine, which was installed in the gallery especially for this purpose. Many groups and individuals took the opportunity to send messages of congratulations, write about their own sensory experience, ask questions, offer comments and send pictures. In return Audrey was able to fax responses, answer questions and offer her own thoughts in reply. The resulting fax correspondence was displayed both in books and on the gallery wall, which grew day by day.


Over two thousand participants visited the Blackie gallery throughout the duration of the installation, which was extended for two weeks, not only due to popular demand but also to accommodate the large number of groups who wished to arrange visits.  Visitors included parties from 30 of the regions schools, colleges, special schools, disabled groups and societies. Fairfield Social Education Centre, Longmere Special School, Royal National School for the Blind and Wirral Autistic Society were among those whom made return visits as well as many interested individuals.

The Artists:

Audrey Melville Barker  (1932-2002)

Access for Audrey meant access to new ideas as well as physical space. Audrey was a wheelchair user herself and always ensured her work was accessible to everyone.

For many years, prior to the exhibition at the Blackie, Audrey had concentrated on large multi- sensory participatory installations and performances devised for specific venues. Although all these works were based in the experienxce of disability Audrey herself did not see herself primarily as a disabled artist. In 1993 Audrey was presented with a Women in the Arts Award by the Arts Council of England, this was made in recognition of her outstanding contribution to the arts over 10 years. Audrey was an adviser to Northern Arts and was a member of the Arts Council's Arts and Disability Monitoring Committee and New Collaborations Panel.

Alan Foley

Alan created a life-size sculpture of a horse, he is both blind and deaf, but can 'see' with his hands.


The first public showing of Audrey Barker's 'A Dot On The Map' was also on exhibition at the same time.