Two residencies at National Library of Scotland gave opportunity for artists to respond to the map collection and explored the different ways this can interpret and provide access for visually impaired audiences. Events crossed and combined description, poetry, tactile experiences and practical workshops with artist and curator’s talks. The library was interested to explore ways of describing finely detailed maps for visually impaired audiences and also to involve members of staff from across the library. Devising and presenting accessible events was a key component of the artist residencies, supported by training for artists and staff.
Diane Garrick is a textile artist with an interest in walking and maps. Diane led an event with Karla, curator of the map collection which first introduced the collection and Diane’s residency. This event included tactile objects from early edition maps as well as Diane’s tactile work. Diane then led a practical printmaking workshop to further explain and give direct experience of the processes involved.
During his residency, poet Tom Pow wrote in response to the exhibition, offering personal, imaginative and historical reflections on Bartholomew’s maps. This culminated in a three way presentation combining the knowledge and enthusiasm of the curator, detailed descriptions from Beverley supplemented with Tom’s readings. Three voices and responses brought context and understanding to the exhibition as well as opening out possible interpretations and inviting personal connections. This theme was developed in the afternoon as Tom guided the group to create poems exploring memories and place through the senses. You can listen to the results here:
Both events were the culmination of a lot of combined work and energy. It was a pleasure to be directly engaged with the artists’ work, particularly as this was the only reading of Tom’s poems in the exhibition and Diane’s embroidered map was only on display for one week. This shows some of the challenges of developing this type of creative interpretation, the responses show the benefits beyond the intended audience:
“The combination of the meticulously focused description, the knowledge and enthusiasm of the curator (crikey she was good, too) and the additional personal, imaginative freedom added by Tom’s residency pieces was a revelation – not only for the exhibition, but for how work designed to enhance the access of a particular group of people is in fact an expansion of access for everybody. It was mainly for a visually impaired audience, but that it also opened up the work to me. “ Lilias Fraser, Scottish Poetry Library