The Blind Artist

A few years ago, Radiolab ran an episode called “Finding Emilie”. Emilie Gossiaux and her boyfriend, Alan, were art students in New York City and the story chronicles Emilie’s fatal accident and recovery, where her mother and Alan almost pulled the plug when all hope seemed lost for finding Emilie.

One tragic day, Emilie was hit by a vehicle and was rushed to a hospital. The doctors stabilized her condition, except there was too much damage to her optic nerve where even if she recovered, she would no longer be able to see. When her mother and boyfriend, Alan, made it to the hospital, Emilie was in a coma.

Emilie was partially deaf and had hearing aids. After the accident, the doctors didn’t put her hearing aids back, so for days, the doctors tried to talk to Emilie to see if she was out of her coma, but she did not respond. They did not know Emilie needed hearing aids, and because of this, the doctors thought there was no hope for Emilie. Needless to say, the doctors were wrong, and I won’t spoil the rest of the episode. I’ve placed the link conveniently at the end so you can go listen to it after reading the rest of this letter.

Back in October, Emilie had an art exhibit at the StoreFrontLab in San Francisco. The exhibit was part of a larger series celebrating the life and work of Oliver Sacks. Emilie hosted a spaghetti night where she served spaghetti on a ceramic bowl that wasn’t glazed, and gave out laser cut forks for everyone to twirl and eat their spaghetti with.

The sauce stained the bowl, placing a permanent mark that says, “someone ate spaghetti in me”. The permanent markings of the spaghetti stains reminds Emilie of her childhood. Taking a part of this experience forced me to think of the creativity of blind artists trying to represent what matters to them in a medium besides visuals. The feel of the bowl was raw and unfinished, much like the texture of stone. You can hear the spaghetti splash around as you dig into it. You can smell the generic Preggo sauce and all of its familiarity, even after the local season of tomatoes were on their way out.

Emilie at her art show serving spaghetti

The meal was frustrating. The fork was oddly shaped, and you could twirl the spaghetti with ease. And I imagine that’s the point. Stripped of your sense of sight, what are you left with? I’ll say it again, frustration. Yet, it exposes me another point of reflection about other’s experiences that I would otherwise not have experienced on my own. It showed me another layer of appreciating art, that it can expand beyond the visual aesthetic.

Radiolab Episode: “Finding Emilie”.