by Shraddha NairMay 13, 2020
They say that when one primary sensory tool of the body is deprived, the rest are heightened. Furthermore, experiential aspects of sensory deprivation have been observed to translate into a meditative feeling or evoke an emotional and intellectual response. Partial and complete sensory deprivation experiences have been tried, tested and endorsed by many over the years. Some of the motivation driving this trend is the need to escape the overwhelming amount of information we are faced with on a second to second basis - an inescapable consequence of the digital age.
Dialogue in the Dark is an initiative which started out in Germany, around 30 years ago, by Dialogue Social Enterprise. Huseyin Kemal Gunduzler, one of the curators and partners of the Dialogue network, experienced this firsthand in Istanbul. His experience moved him to recreate the concept, bringing it back home, set against the backdrop of East London. Meeting Hakan Elbir and Kerem Okumus, social entrepreneurs from Istanbul who have been running Dialogue in the Dark in Turkey, was pivotal to Gunduzler’s journey to launch this project with them in London.
The concept of visual deprivation experiences, for example, restaurants in the dark, are not unheard of. However, Gunduzler from Muse Projects, James Sheerer from Other Fabrications, and the rest of the team take the experience to a whole new level. Dialogue in the Dark elevates the space to an immersive, interactive storytelling experience which fosters cross-community engagement. “When I first had the experience in Istanbul, I had a really bad anxiety for the first 20 minutes, and I was really out of my comfort zone. Then there was a point when I started to find it quite relaxing. I started interacting with what was around me and engaging with the space. The overall experience after I left was so emotional and moving. The whole experience made me ask myself certain questions, about why is society constructed in this particular way and does it take experiences like this to change the way society functions?,” says Gunduzler. He, along with Sheerer, Other Fabrications and Muse Projects, did months of on ground grassroots research, talking to the visually impaired, getting first-hand feedback while pushing and playing with the concept itself.
The intriguing part about Dialogue in the Dark is that it is not necessarily a one-time experience. They have six visually impaired guides who are part of the experience and every experience is led by one of them. Each guide has their own story and when people visit for the second or third time their experience continues to be unique and different in the sensorial and thought response it evokes.
"Towards the idea of sensory deprivation,” says Gunduzler, “we have just lined up a series of events like storytelling in the dark, meditation in the dark to engage the senses all while creating accessible and immersive spaces for people across the board”. Dialogue in the Dark is a multi-layered concept, which stands at the crossroads of being an immersive experience, and interactive art installation and a social enterprise. The idea itself exists in an entirely new category which is yet to reach its entire potential. Gunduzler says, My previous experiences have very much been around the dance music and fashion scenes. The clubs are a cultural institution but they are not necessarily accessible for the disabled communities. I would love to be able to change that”.