Eran's Blog

Ilan Manouach’s Tactile Storytelling in Tel-Aviv


Earlier this year Keren Katz and I applied for a grant to bring conceptual artist, musician and comics artist Ilan Manouach to give a one week workshop at Binyamin Gallery. The project was funded with the kind assistance of Asylum Arts, a non-profit organization dedicated to supporting contemporary Jewish culture around the world. It took place just before the Jewish holiday of Passover, so we have decided to combine the universal element of the holiday with Ilan’s practice, forming the Tactile Haggadah using Shapereader workshop.

 

[All photos in this post are by Neta Alonim]
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Shapereader is a language designed by Ilan Manouach. It consists of a limited repertoire of shapes that offer tactile equivalents for words and meanings. It was designed with the goal of allowing the creation of narrative works of tactile literature for and from a visually impaired readership. Shapereader advocates for new publishing grounds and challenges the visual predominance of storytelling.

 
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Judaism has always searched for an alternative to the image. There is a moral aspect to this; to depart from appearances and to separate the spirit from the material world. This culture is one of storytelling, focusing on the written word which is condensed with meaning and has the ability to contain the universe. Haggaddah (Storytelling in Hebrew) is a Jewish book that is read during the Passover Seder night, that emphasizes the need to pass stories from a generation to the next one.

 
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The workshop began with the handing out of blindfolds to the participants and the darkening of the room.Ilan Manouach introduced Shapereader to the participants in a gradual manner. At first seven patterns were given to each group, in order for them to negotiate an index of meanings to attribute to each pattern amongst themselves. Then they learned to form sentences out of patterns, and enriched those sentences by placing the patterns in spatial ways that differ from just a line of words or concepts. Thus, a sort of primordial poetry, one that strips language of its signs, and focuses on its signals, came into their minds. On the last day, large plates engraved with a more complex entanglement of around thirty different patterns were given to each group, and they were able to create stories and the adjust the language to contain them and communicate them just by using the sense of touch.

 
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Since the project focused on being able to imagine or make up a story without the sense of sight, we extended a visit to the Tel-Aviv Library for the Blind, who were kind to help us publicize the workshop and even sent a staff representative to attend the workshop. The fifth session of the workshop was an open to the public artist talk. Along with Ilan, presenting his work, the event featured a talk about the Haggaddah and the arts, by Avraham Roos, and a performance, “Seder Night” by artist, dancer and choreographer Savyon Fishlovitch.