Face blindness – an artist’s perspective

This post was contributed by Bernice Wilson, an artist living and working in East London, who gave a talk at Birkbeck’s Department of Psychological Sciences‘s Prosopagnosia Open Day on 5 October.

I am an artist interested in exploring identity and the sense of self. By scrutinizing portraiture in various forms, from CCTV through photography and sculpture, to voyeuristic photographs and paintings of acquaintances or complete strangers, I attempt to stimulate my audience to think and look at identity in a different way.

My new body of work is drawing inspiration from what it is like to be face blind. A condition that is almost inconceivable as we take for granted this primeval and instinctive form of communication – knowing ourselves and knowing and recognizing our kin/family/tribe.

Through my research into the condition I have met with several people who have face blindness – better known as prosopagnosia in the medical profession – and as a result of these meetings I was invited along to the 2nd Annual Symposium on 5 October, 2012 to talk about my work and how it relates to face blindness. I have to say I was flattered and excited to be asked and talk to the audience whom I took as direct inspiration for my work. 

I spoke about how and when I came across face blindness and emphasised that my work is an interpretation, my best guess, that it in no way claims to know what face blindness actually feels like. I spoke about the findings in my research: that I have become aware that people who are faceblind are very good detectives. They adapt, often subconsciously, by looking for triggers, telltales, specific features such as moles, glasses, voices etc… that they can then recall on future encounters with each face they meet to help them identify the individual. These are the notions that I used to inform the concepts in my work, together with some of the research methods – for example, the eye tracking tests that are conducted, that I too took part in as a control subject earlier this year.

The audience were intrigued, I think. It would have been great to get some direct feedback but lack of time on the day meant this wasn’t possible although I am hoping to gain some very soon via the “London Faceblind Group” who meet regularly to discuss common ground and offer mutual support.

Bernice will be exhibiting some more face blind inspired works at a group show: Matt Roberts Arts, 25b Vyner St, London E2 9DG from 8-24th November 2012. All images copyright the artist.

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