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  • "Blindness Gain" as Worldmaking:Audio Description as a New "partage du sensible"
  • Marion Chottin and Hannah Thompson

IN THIS ARTICLE we use our experiences of co-creating creative audio descriptions at the Musée du quai Branly in Paris to suggest that the worldmaking practices of challenge, collaboration, action, and dialogue offer a means to call into question the traditional ways of accessing museum and gallery content that still prevail in (French) society.1 We define "disability's worldmaking" in the museum or art gallery as a two-part process. First, we challenge the 'givenness' of the hierarchies, relationships, and assumptions that govern visitor experience in the museum. Second, we offer an alternative model of visitor engagement where active and dialogic co-creation provides an inclusive alternative to ocularcentric museum experiences. Together, these acts of worldmaking promise an alternative mode of being in the museum that suggests a new politics of access. By going beyond current understandings of 'inclusion,' our project does not limit itself to giving disabled people a museum experience analogous to that of non-disabled people. Instead, it explores and celebrates alternative modes of engaging with art that do more than merely echo normative museum experiences and which, more broadly, open up a new way of making society.

Our definition of worldmaking is a counterpoint to Jacques Rancière's concept of "le partage du sensible" and is informed by the concept of "blindness gain." In Rancière's words, le partage du sensible as a political concept is "ce système d'évidences sensibles qui donne à voir en même temps l'existence d'un commun et les découpages qui y définissent les places et les parts respectives."2 Elsewhere, he elaborates on this definition, describing it as "la façon dont les formes d'inclusion et d'exclusion qui définissent la participation à une vie commune sont d'abord configurées au sein même de l'expérience sensible de la vie."3 In other words, according to Rancière, there is "une esthétique de la politique": the assignment of a place to each person in society is manifested through the sensory experience itself, and, for him, particularly in a division between visibility and invisibility; audibility and inaudibility: those who participate in public life are visible and audible, while those who do not are invisible and inaudible (kept hidden and silent within the private sphere). Given that, for Rancière, the realm of art is a privileged place of sensory experience, it is therefore also a privileged place for le partage du sensible, which expresses who has a place in society and who does not. We argue that, nowadays, it is in the museum [End Page 32] or art gallery that the dynamics of social inclusion and exclusion are most starkly played out. But Rancière does not include disabled people among the categories of people—like workers—who, according to him, are excluded from society by the very fact of their invisibility and inaudibility. Neither does he discuss how painting, an art considered supremely visual, produces invisibility, that is, the absence of blind or partially blind people from museums, nor does he consider how the other senses might play a role in reducing blind people's exclusion from art and society. The reasons for these various silences are obvious: by ignoring the domain of disability, Rancière does not perceive its invisibility, and hence the exclusion of disabled people; he thinks of le partage du sensible mainly in terms of visibility and invisibility, without thinking of moving beyond the presumed primacy of sight.4

In our work, we ask how people who are blind or partially blind gain access to the politically and culturally charged space of the museum or art gallery, so that they too can participate in acts of multi-sensory worldmaking and thus undermine le partage du sensible between those who are invisible and inaudible because they are blind, and those who are visible and audible because they are sighted.

The theory of "blindness gain" is a reimagining of the notion of "deaf gain" theorized by Bauman and Murray.5 "Deaf gain" is a critical position and...


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