Ahead of her new show at Galerie Templon in Paris, the French artist Prune Nourry invited eight visually impaired people to sit for her and then sculpted their busts and cast their hands all while wearing a blindfold.
Now visitors will be plunged into darkness to experience the works. No phones are allowed, and bags must be left in a locker at the entrance. Visitors then use their hands to feel around, guided by a rope running along the wall and feeling the bumpy signs underfoot to know when to stop. Excerpts of the conversations Nourry had with her sitters are played above each bust and a special fragrance combining the scents of wet clay and ash is sprayed around the space.
The idea for the show stems from Nourry’s desire to share her “sensual” approach to sculpture with the public and to provide them with greater access to her work. Back in 2014 the artist allowed visitors to touch works from her Terracotta Daughters series. This time Nourry went further by molding the busts while blindfolded over two three-to-four-hour sessions for each. “I wanted to put myself in their shoes and take the time to bond with them as Old Masters would with their models,” she says. “Usually when I sculpt, I rely 80% on my eyes. I wondered what would happen if my touch and hearing were to replace my sight.”
The models were invited to touch their own 3D portraits. “Either I would guide them, or it was the other way around, which was always very moving,” Nourry says. Some were born blind, while others lost their sight in an accident or because of illness. David, for instance, was hit by a car at 5am in his 20s—“crashed out of the nightlife into the night”, as he puts it. He now works as a physical therapist. This is what struck the artist the most, how all her models ended up in the business of helping others.
The exhibition spaces are painted entirely black, and all lights have been taken out, to ensure sure nobody inadvertently switches them on. No one other than Vincent Lorca, the director of a documentary about the project, and one other person from Nourry’s team, has seen any of the sculptures. Not even the artist, who intends to keep herself in the dark as long as possible. “I won’t see them,” Nourry says, unless she inadvertently sees a picture that a buyer posts online of a work that they can only purchase blind.
• Prune Nourry: Project Phoenix, Galerie Templon, Paris, 4 September-23 October