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‘Productive and inspiring’: Piet Devos bids adieu to Concordia

The visiting postdoctoral fellow tackles visualist thinking in two final events coordinated by the Centre for Sensory Studies
October 3, 2016
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By Elisabeth Faure

Piet Devos: “Blindness is often defined as the opposite of vision, but that’s not the case at all.” Piet Devos: “Blindness is often defined as the opposite of vision, but that’s not the case at all.”


After a busy year at Concordia, Piet Devos, a visiting postdoctoral fellow at the Centre for Sensory Studies, is returning home to Belgium.

But before he goes, he’s got a few things left on his to-do list — including participating in two major events.

“It has been a very productive and inspiring period,” says Devos, whose research focuses on both sensory studies and disabled writers.

First up, Devos is co-organizing a panel discussion for Engaging the Senses: The 48th Annual Conference of the International Visual Literacy Association, co-hosted by the Centre for Sensory Studies and the Centre for Interdisciplinary Studies in Society and Culture from October October 5 to 8.

“The Distorting Mirror of Blindness: Visual Literacy and Non-Sighted Aesthetics,” will focus on blind artists.

“When I proposed this panel, I was rather amazed to see that this disability hadn’t been discussed that much, so we’ll try to set that right,” says Devos, who himself is blind. He argues that we need to get away from a tendency of “visualist” thinking in the West.

Panellists include sculptor David Johnson, the UK-based blind sculptor whose work was also the focus of an exhibition organized by the Critical Disabilitiy Studies Working Group last Spring.

“David is going to talk about how he works, and how this work is a reflection on visuality,” Devos explains. “Blindness is often defined as the opposite of vision — darkness, the exclusion of light — but that’s not the case at all.” 
 

Works by David Johnson: "I am concerned with figuring the 'what-it-is likeness' of a sensory deprivation." Works by David Johnson: "I am concerned with figuring the 'what-it-is likeness' of a sensory deprivation."


‘I am mapping my own experience’

In addition to working on his next book while at Concordia, Devos says Centre for Sensory Studies also offered him the chance to take his research in new and unexpected directions. “You are in an environment where lots of people are working on the senses, so you are able to exchange ideas.”

During his time here at the university, Devos began a joint project with McGill researcher Florian Grond, who he initially met at a London conference last year. “Florian was working on sound in relation to disability,” Devos recalls.

The two began creating binaural recordings of Devos’ walks through the city of Montreal, using sound, video and commentary. “I am mapping my own experience, but in a way that others can analyze.”

Devos will use these recordings in his presentation at the opening event of the 2016–17 Beyond Disciplines series, hosted by the Faculty of Arts and Sciences, which promotes interdisciplinary conversations on a variety of topics.

The October 20 kickoff event, “Come to your senses: Sensescapes in research and in life,” will be an interactive sensory event.

Devos is looking forward to introducing audiences to his research. “I think this is a very promising idea,” he says, adding that it could one day lead to the creation of specialized navigation apps.

“If I, as a blind person, go to a place I don’t know, I could listen to how another blind person navigated that space beforehand. That would be like a sighted person looking at a visual map.”

For Devos, the pair of presentations mean he is leaving on a high note. “I’m very excited for both of these events,” says Devos. “It’s a great way to wrap up my time at the Centre for Sensory Studies and at Concordia.”


Engaging the Senses: The 48th Annual Conference of the International Visual Literacy Association
runs from October 5 – 8.

Beyond Disciplines: Come to your senses: Sensescapes in research and in life, takes place October 20, from 5 – 7 pm, in room 2.260 of the Engineering, Computer Science and Visual Arts Integrated Complex (EV). A reception will follow in room 11.725.

This event is free, open to the public and wheelchair accessible. Daycare and ASQ / LSQ are available upon request, with 48 hours’ notice. Space is limited, RSVP required: RSVP.fas@concordia.ca.

Find out more about Concordia’s Centre for Sensory Studies.

 



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