Work by Annie Rae (left) and John Cole (right)
Work by Annie Rae (left) and John Cole (right)

This three-artist exhibition invites us to contemplate the value and fragility of our nervous system—the normal functioning of which many of us take for granted.

John Cole, a photographer who in recent years has suffered severe hearing loss, presents a series of portraits of people with the same affliction. Accompanying each portrait is an essay written by the sitter about his or her experience of deafness. Without ignoring the challenges imposed by hearing loss, the essays display an inspirational amount of stoicism. For the Scottish percussionist and composer Evelyn Glennie, for instance, ‘My deafness is no more important than the fact I am female with brown eyes’. Or for fellow photographer Bruce Rae, ‘I am quite bloody minded about it […] I do miss the top quarter octave of say the violin or piano, but I had enough of musical experience as a child to remember and reconstruct; much as I imagine Beethoven—the patron saint of the deaf—did.’

The painter and illustrator Annie Rae has explored the way her loss of sight—affected by macular degeneration—has influenced and hindered her practice. She has chosen to ‘cluster’ the paintings, prints and collages on a group of plinths in seemingly random formation to offer an impression of the confusion her disability has caused her. The leitmotifs of the eye and the hand, and the disrupted relation between the two, predominate, along with the sense of alienation as the world around her feels ever more foreign: ‘I have to go to another country where I can neither read nor understand the language’ is written on an adjacent plaque in large and bold, ‘reader-friendly’ typeface, and the words are translated into different scripts. Continuing this theme is the surrealistic placement of eyes amidst ‘foreign’ motifs (an Indian elephant, for example) in some of the pictures.

Jess Norgrove, another photographer, has mild cerebral palsy and the not-quite-rightness she feels in her body is uncannily attuned with the subjects to which she is drawn: the crumbling, sun-bleached interior of a church in Belgium; a ‘melted’ piano in a ghost town in the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone; a child’s trike in the abandoned basement of a warehouse; a briefcase and pair of outmoded pinstripe trousers arranged on a chair in a cobweb-ridden room. These largescale digital photographs of the remnants of bygone worlds further deal with the theme of loss. Rather than the pathological loss of sense perception, though, in this case it’s the loss that comes with disuse, the loss of meaning and of memory. Each photograph has its own forgotten story and it’s up to us—the viewers—to fill the gaps.

Compromised Perceptions is on at Hastings Arts Forum until 28 May 2017. Tuesday – Sunday 11am – 5pm. Free Entry.