Colour Embodied

How can we communicate the spectrum and ability of perceiving colour in all, fully sighted, visually impaired and even blind individuals, to the general public?


Colour Embodied was a talk, workshop and pop up exhibition  which explored alternative experiences of colour perception; often non-visual and embodied. (Colour) perception is a culturally learnt behaviour of pattern recognition, drawing on sensory inputs and their kinaesthetic association. This public engagement was designed to be a positive, inclusive and accessible way of communicating alternative experience of colour perception to the general public as part of the Friday Late during the Monochrome season in the National Gallery.


Given the broad spectrum of visitors and expected variety of engagement this pop-up exhibition consisted of two separate formats: A talk, scheduled to run several times throughout the duration of the Friday Late, as well as an interactive mini workshop taking place in the time frame between the scheduled talks. The talks provided an informative and scientific analysis of colour perception and how it is believed to work within individuals who are visually impaired. The workshop offered a hands-on approach to invite visitors to put their own learn experience of pattern recognition in relation to colour perception, to the test.


Surrounded by the myriad of paintings in the extravagant rooms of the National Gallery, a small pop-up exhibition takes shape. It is set up to invite small groups of approximately 20 people to sit, positioned to listen to a talk on Colour Embodied. The presentation tells the story of sensory perception, how visual perception cannot be separated from the input of other senses and how it is informed to a large extent by learnt pattern recognition. In short, despite common believe, around 60% of colour perception happens in the brain and kinaesthetic associations perceived through other senses are an additional contributing factor.

This is why when removing sight from the equation (whether it is caused by a blind fold or a visual impairment) we have a remaining ability to understand the colour of certain objects. In order to make this phenomenon truly an embodied experience, visitors are invited to explore a variety of objects laid out of a table whilst being blindfolded and group them into a colour categories informed by tactile (shape, texture, temperature) and other sensory inputs (smell). Simple shapes such as a banana or an orange are quickly organised into ‘Yellow’ and ‘Orange’, however it is astonishing that individuals were even able in some cases to correctly differentiate between a green and a red apple, for example, and to make mostly abstract kinaesthetic associations based on the texture of an object.