Art Rehabilitated


Written by Yusuf Laher
28 Monday 28th March 2011

Pete Eckert:

When sculptor and industrial designer Pete Eckert was diagnosed with Retinitis pigmentosa, his world fell apart. “A person with RP gradually looses their sight until they go completely blind“, said his doctor, coolly. The words hit Pete “like a hammer”. Two years later, he was still in shock.

Eventually, Pete got himself a guide dog named Uzu and a wood lathe and moved on with his life. One day, working on wood cuts in his garage, he found an old Kodak camera that belonged to his mother in law. Intrigued by the camera’s infrared setting and amused by the thought of a blind photographer, Pete was hooked.

Using his computer and a talking scanner, Pete taught himself the basics. And, encouraged and inspired by a helpful visit to Camera Arts in Sacramento, he was off. Describing his art, Pete writes, “I slip photos under the door from the world of the blind to be viewed in the light of the sighted”.

Chris Hay:

Born in 1976, Chris ‘The Picture Man’ Hay was diagnosed with Cerebral palsy when he was six months old. He is unable to speak, move his hands or control his body. But he’s got a head full of ideas.   

In the ‘80s, at Ysgol Gogarth, a specialist school in Llandudno for children with physical disabilities, Chris got into art using a computer. In March 2009, he had his first exhibition.

Using a pressure pad on the end of an extended arm and a modified version of Switch Access for Windows, Chris controls his mouse cursor with his cheek. "It's very painstaking work, but I've got plenty of patience", he told the BBC in 2010. Working from photographs, each picture takes Chris about three months to complete. “It caught hold of me when I was young and I've had the art fever ever since," he says.

Tony Quan:

Legendary LA graffiti artist Tony Quan (Tempt One) was diagnosed with Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) in 2003. He rapidly deteriorated, losing the use of his arms and legs. Eventually he was unable to speak or even breathe on his own. Inside, Tempt retained full mental clarity. Now, thanks to a revolutionary new eye-tracking device, Tony’s creating art again... with his eyes.

“Art is a tool of empowerment and social change, and I consider myself blessed to be able to create and use my work to promote health reform, bring awareness about ALS and help others”  – Tempt One.

The Eyewriter Initiative is a joint venture by members of Free Art and Technology, OpenFrameworks and the Graffiti Research Lab. And supported by The Ebeling Group, the Not Impossible Foundation and Parsons Communication Design & Technology, they’ve created a low cost, open-source eye-tracking system that allows ALS patients to draw using just their eyes. The long term goal is to "create a professional/social network of software developers, hardware hackers, urban projection artists and ALS patients from around the world who are using local materials and open source research to creatively connect and make eye art".

Mounted on a pair of frames, a small camera is wired to capture the pupil of Tempt’s right. To select a tool or colour, he ‘clicks’ by holding his gaze on it for four seconds. Then he draws by moving his gaze around the canvas screen. Instead of traditional JPG or GIF formats, the images are saved as GMLs (Graffiti Markup Language), a new open-source format developed specifically for EyeWriter. Tempt then uploads his work to a server. Which allows his friends and supporters to access the images wirelessly, digitally projecting Tempt One ‘eyetags’ on everything from high rises in Los Angeles to riverbanks in Vienna.

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