“Dialog in the Dark” gives new light to other senses

The phrase “the blind leading the blind” is a well-known but often abstract saying. However, last weekend, the reality of that statement hit me harder than if I were to run headfirst into a wrought iron gate (which I can now say I’ve done).

Last Sunday, my friend and I visited Atlantic Station to see the “Bodies” and “Dialog In The Dark” exhibits. Most people have heard of or even seen “Bodies,” and though it is beyond all doubt an excellent exhibit, I found “Dialog In The Dark” to be (ironically) a much more eye-opening experience.

At its core, “Dialog” simulates what it is like to be blind. They do this by setting up rooms to model real-life locations and situations, the catch being that everything is pitch black; in place of your vision you receive a long cane and encouraging words from your guide to “focus on your other senses.” Still, I couldn’t help feeling woefully unequipped as my seven group mates and I stepped into the first room.

The dark was so perfect that I began to feel claustrophobic and I completely lost my sense of direction. All I could do was stand there blinking, waiting for the lights that would never turn on. Recalling the earlier advice, I slowly inched forward.

I felt the squish of grass under my feet and a light breeze on my cheek, and then heard the chirping of birds and a soft creek of shoes along wood. Curtis, our guide, called out from somewhere ahead of me, “Explore the area and try to figure out where you are, then make your way over to the bridge.”

Imagine eight adults creeping around a room full of invisible obstacles, madly waving canes along the floor in front of them, murmuring apologies as they bump into one another.

Then a voice rings out across the room and off the walls, masking its origin, “I found a tree!” And like an open faucet, voices pour from all around, “Over here’s a lamppost.” “Here’s a trashcan.” “The bridge is this way.” WHAM! “I found the gate” (yeah, that was me).

After the park, Curtis led us through a bunch of other scenarios, turning menial tasks like grocery shopping into dubious challenges. “Use touch and smell to identify the fruits and other produce,” he said.

Curtis was an incredible guide, helping us solve the puzzles presented by each new environment, all while answering a steady stream of questions ranging from how he gets to work to how he handles cash to how long it took him to really adjust to having lost his sight (two years, he said, after losing his vision 16 years ago to diabetes).

With each new room, the underlying significance of “Dialog In The Dark” became clearer. I had gone in nervous about the dark, but the true message and awesomeness of the exhibit comes from the dialog.

It’s not just about the challenge of being blind or standing alone in a dark room, wondering how to get out. It’s about overcoming those challenges by communicating with your group and guide while communicating with yourself and using the senses that often get overlooked. This creates a dialog with the world around you.

I could talk all day about how great my experience was at “Dialog In The Dark,” but you’d be missing out if you didn’t go create an experience there yourself. A combo ticket for “Dialog” and “Bodies” is reasonable (about $30) and highly recommended.

If you plan to go, do so early because lines get long when it gets close to noon. If you’re still not sure about going, think of this: when I finally pulled aside the black curtain to exit the exhibit and pick up my coat and phone from my locker, the light was so bright—so blinding—that I had to close my eyes.