Milan | Blind Date

Some things are just better done in the dark.

But cocktails without a glimmer of light? Dinner in total obscurity? Theatre in a black-out? An exhibition you can’t see?

Like so many other such institutions the world over, the Istituto dei Ciechi (Institute for the Blind) in Milan provides training, opportunities and services for the visually handicapped by various means. One of these was espousing a brilliant concept originated by Andreas Heinecke, a German journalist who became fascinated by non-visual perception after a friend had lost his sight in an accident. The concept was to bring blind and sighted people together in a Dialogue in the Dark.

In Dialogo nel Buio, a permanent exhibition in the Institute, you follow an itinerary in total darkness as part of a small group accompanied by expert guides who happen to be sightless. The idea is to experiment a new way of seeing by learning to trust your other senses. And your guide. The blind leading the blind. The roles, of course, are inverted and you, who can read this, are the one who is impaired. Mind the step.

Darkness disorients and disconcerts us, the sighted, but experienced like this it can lead to the discovery of new dimensions, a new depth and intensity in how we perceive reality and in communicating with others. This can be weird and wonderful, liberating and even exhilarating.  But not easy: it calls for an open mind and a great sense of humour.

New projects were spawned from the enthusiasm driven by Dialogo nel BuioCafénoir is the name of the bar linked to the exhibition, where you savour your cocktail, hopefully, to a musical background in complete obscurity. No one sees how you look: it’s what you think, what you say and how you say it that defines you. The restaurant, TrattoNero, followed: tastes and textures without visual stimuli. Teatro al Buio is an experience of total immersion in the voices and expressiveness of the actors, the movements and rhythms unfolding on stage. And, concentrating on the tactile (or groping in the dark), visitors can explore 20 masterpieces of sculpture without a glimmer of light in L’Arte del Tatto.

You can dine in the dark elsewhere just for the thrill of it: Cena al Buioorganizes regular events of this ilk, so far only in Rome or Milan. What the Istituto dei Ciechi proposes is a little more challenging.

Try it and see.