Visual Communication students collaborate with writer Roger Cowell

05 April 2022

'…appears…disappears…reappears… (visualising sight loss)' is a creative collaboration between local writer Roger Cowell and students from our BA (Hons) Visual Communication undergraduate course. 

The project responds to dramatic changes Roger experienced in his vision a few years ago. “My central vision began to deteriorate in October 2019 during a trip to Japan. And by mid-March 2020, it had been replaced by a blurry blob, and a tiny sliver of peripheral vision, which appears, disappears, and reappears, dependent on the light around me. At times, the changes of my sight have been depressing, frustrating, and puzzling, but mostly I could not have imagined them if I had not experienced them personally. For these reasons, I want to share them with others, so they may glimpse the fantastic world in the hidden dimensions revealed to me over the last few years. I do not suggest these are anything but my own experiences, but they are mine, as far as I can describe and reflect on them”.

Over the past two years Roger has been writing a book about his experiences, parts of which describe the visual effects and hallucinations he has encountered along the way. These have included visions of octopuses, Pharos and startling moments of full-colour visual clarity. Second-year students were given the opportunity to meet with Roger, and these direct conversations alongside his written accounts have inspired the work for …appears…disappears…reappears… (visualising sight loss).

Image: (From left to right) Erin William, David Collins, Roger Cowell, Jess Plunkett, Dipo Akinse and Eve Mcfarlane Salvo

Four second year students Dipo Akinse, Erin Williams, Eve Mcfarlane Salvo and Jess Williams have created work for the exhibition held within the University buildings. Once the exhibition had been installed, Roger visited the University to experience the work in its public form, giving the students the opportunity to talk through what they had made. The next stage of the project will move the work to Roger’s house so he can look at it in a more controlled and familiar visual environment. This will mean he can view the work in the softer evening light which often allows him to experience far stronger visual effects than at other times.

Erin said: “I really enjoyed working with Roger, it was great to be able to visualize his unique experiences with his unreliable eye sight. My aim was to create a piece that visualized Rogers experience with the Octopus but I also wanted Roger to be able to experience my piece too, so that's why I decided to go with the lino print medium as I could present the print but also the lino itself so he could experience it too. I learned a lot whilst researching for this project about how visually impaired people experience art, and how inaccessible a lot of art galleries and museums are for them. I feel like as artists we need to advocate for more tactile and auditory alternatives in galleries and museums to make them more accessible for everyone.”

Image: Roger Cowell with work by Erin Williams

Jess added: “I'm really proud of the work I produced as a result of this project. I was able to push my creativity to its boundaries and explore the creative field from a completely different perspective.

“Roger's writing was so inspiring and the way he spoke brought endless visuals to my mind. The woman in the red dress that Roger spoke about stood out to me the most, as the way he described her long dark hair and striking features conjured up an image in my head almost immediately. Roger encouraged us all to express his words in whichever way we saw fit, and that really allowed me to explore my creative boundaries. It was a collaboration I'm really grateful for!”

Image: Roger Cowell and Dipo Akinse