Review of Kunst im Sehverlust (Art in the loss of vision)


“Jenseits des Visuellen” (Beyond the visual)

by Michael Mayer

What does not seeing art mean? What appears to be universally unproblematic for music and literature, for audio plays and tonal arts, feels virtually grotesque in the area of the so-called visual arts. Obligated to the image, to the visible residue of artistic productivity, the alliance between visuality and artwork seems irrevocable here. Yet not just conceptual art — the “mental art” of modernity — but, rather, the incipient seventeenth-century debate about the genuinely haptic qualities of the visual arts was already scrutinising the quietly enthroned primacy of the ocular. In the case of  Jacques Derrida,  with his “Memoirs of the Blind”, the provocation of not seeing in art escalated to a dialectic volte. Calling this a “philosophical-visual reflection on blindness and illumination”, Volkmar Mühleis, for his part, devotes this knowledgeable, well thought out, and — as dawns on the reader soon afterwards — long overdue study of his own to the loss of vision in art. His attempt to thematise both the good and the bad consequences for the concept of art as a whole — if we mean to take the art of the blind and visually impaired seriously — focusses on the question of an aesthetic beyond mere visuality. It unfolds, in fact, through the example of four contemporary blind and severely visually impaired artists, respectively: Jonathan HuxleyJosé Grania MoreiraEvgen Bavciar, and Flavio Titolo. In doing so, Mühleis not only avails himself of Heinrich Wölfflins groundwork in art history, in addition to the relationship Wölfflin defines for tactility and visuality. At times, we also have the impression that the author possibly wants to break down Ulrich Sonnemann’s interjected catchphrase of “ocular tyranny” in the West – the despotism of the eye above all other senses – on art-theoretical grounds, and authenticate it on the basis of artistic material.

Volkmar Mühleis: Kunst im Sehverlust. Wilhelm Fink Verlag, Munich 2005. 295 pages. 65 Euro