Cristina´s interview translated / la entrevista de Cristina traducida
Beginning of Cristina´s interview –
P – Presenter
C – Cristina
JM – José María (doctor)
P: I have to ask you a question. Do you believe that a blind person can feel emotion when standing in front of a piece of art? In front of a sculpture, of course, they can touch it. Music, of course, how could they not? They can listen to it. But, in front of a painting, can a person who can´t see, feel the emotions that a painter wanted to transmit? We want to tell you about a project that is attempting to make it so. (1:22)
It is called Arches Project, an initiative of the European Union here in Spain, which is being developed in the Lázaro Galdiano and the Thyssen-Bornemizsa Museums in which they are trying to make all of this a reality. It´s a project that is looking to make the museums accessible for everyone using a research technique which incorporates the participation of people with specific needs. (1:42)
Cristina de Diego participates in this project. She´s a painter and she is a visually-impairedperson. She can´t see beyond shapes, shadows, perhaps beams of light. She can´t distinguish colours but she is capable of showing her feelings and awakening our sensitivity with paintings such as the ones we are going to show. (2:05)
P: Cristina, Good evening.
C: Good evening Javier.
P: You´re not blind from birth, are you?
C: No, I began to lose my sight when I was 21 years old, as a consequence of a degenerative disease and I was able to maintain a remaining vision until 2006 when I suffered another setback which meant that my remaining vision was greatly reduced. Well, I had to learn how to live with this huge visual disability and to understand that, in life, everything is possibleand you can go on. (2:37)
P: It had to be very hard. I imagine that, at times, we don´t value what we have until we lose it. Those of us with normal vision, maybe, don´t think it is so important – we take it as a fact of life, right?
C: That´s it. If you can see, you think that when you get up, you open your eyes and with this sense you can perceive everything that is around you. The problem arises when you lose it. (2:58)
P: What a shock when you realize that you´re losing your vision and someone tells you that you are not going to be able to see.
C: Yes, what happens is, well, I was always treated by very good doctors and also, in Spain, we have the (ONCE) Spanish National Organisation for the Blind that teaches you, when you lose your sight, to live with this little remaining vision, in my case. By usingyour hearing, touch and other abilities and you also learn everything you need. You can start a different life from what you had imagined beforehand but you can live and be happy. (3:29)
P: Cristina, how do you perceive an artwork?
C: In order to perceive an artwork, as you already said, if it is 3-dimensional, like a sculpture, by touching it you can perceive it, perceive the volume. If it is 2-dimensional, like a painting, you need some support tools. These tools are tactile reliefs which are reproductions of the original artwork. Theyallow you to explore with your fingers and at the same time you have a person who audio describes it to you and guides you in this exploration. This is what I try to explain in the Arches European Union project and also as a second-year student of a Double Degree in Fine Arts and Tourism in the Rey Juan Carlos University. It´s what I do with my teachers and that´s how we have managed for me to be able to paint and draw. (4:18)
P: Arches Project, I imagine that in this project, they say, let´s see how we can make museums adaptable. Well, put in ramps so a wheelchair can enter or how can I organize a series of things but how can I make a blind person see a painting? (4:31)
C: If you can´t see, you won´t be able to see. This is something you have to have clear. (4:36) When you lose your sight, you lose it. You perceive it.
P: So, how can you perceive it?
C: You feel it. Feeling it, like the Greek Classics said, through other senses. As I said, with your senses, with your touch, you can explore a reproduction of a work of art in relief form. They can describe it to you and at the same time you can draw your own mental image of the composition. It is never going to be the same as the real one but you make your own mental image. They do this very well in the Reina Sofia National Museum and Art Centre with a painting, well a mural, “Guernica”, and in the Thyssen Bornemizsa they have a reproduction of a «Woman with a parasol in a garden” by Renoir which is a work of art of a work of art. It´s a relief you can touch which allows people who can´t see to perceive it. For those of us who have a bit of luck in still having some remaining vision, this enables us to contrast the colours too. (5:26)
P: Tactile relief, afterwards we´ll talk about that. Afterwards we´ll return and we´ll specifically talk about your works of art. But you mentioned your studies earlier. You have a degree in Tourism from Rey Juan Carlos University. We´re going to show on the screens a series of documents which show this. You did your dissertation. You won an award for receiving the highest average results in your course. You decided to broaden your studies by enrolling in a Double Degree in Fine Arts and Tourism at the same university. You finished your first year with great marks and congratulations from the academic authorities. Right now, definitively, we´ll see in some images, you picking up your award for being an outstanding honour´s student which right now we can see on the screens. This recognition is being given to you by the Vice-Rector Maria Angustias Palomar. This is the same woman who is telling you now that you can´t continue this double degree because you have already graduated in one of those two degrees. It doesn´t seem to make much sense, does it?
C: For me, it makes no sense. Moreover, when I asked to enrol in this double degree once I had completed the Tourism degree, I followed the normal process. I paid the tuition fees on time, I did the first year. The rector, at the moment of awarding me the prize for being the best student in the Tourism degree course,also congratulated me because I told him that I had just finished my first year in the Double Degree in Fine Arts and Tourism. This year I began the second year of this course. Everything was going well until the 13th of November when I detected that there were mistakes in 5 subjects which I had asked for convalidation with honours which they convalidated with lower marks. In one subject in which I had got 8/10 they gave me a 6/10. Simply, I made a complaint noting these errors, and this was the 13th of November and on 12th of December, I received by certified post, a letter from the university which I then had to go to collect, and these errors hadn´t been corrected. I understood that this certified letter was associated with the mistakes that the university had made with my marks.(7:21) Instead of this, the Vice-Rector of students at the University, Doña AngustiasPalomar Gallego, told me that my student´s file had been checked and as I already have a Tourism degree, it´s not possible for me to do a Double Degree in Fine Arts and Tourism.
P: I think it´s a little bit ridiculous. Let´s see, I would understand if they told you, well, you already have a degree in Tourism, we will convalidate some of those subjects and you can study the others that are complimentary or different in this double degree. That would seem reasonable. Instead of saying no, no, because you have one of the two degrees you can´t do the double degree!
C: That´s how I understand it. Furthermore, because I chose this double degree when doing my internship, I realized that in the main area of museums in Madrid, there weren´t enough accessible resources for visually-impaired people. (8:02)
So that´s why I enrolled in this double degree and according to what I know, it´s the only university that offers this double degree course in Madrid. The campus is close to my home so I can go there alone which is very important for me. I don´t understand why, right now, they have dismissed me from a public university where I was enrolled after starting my second year of the course. (8:24) Moreover, they didn´t respond to my direct correspondence to the university rector questioning this issue.
P: You have directly written to the rector?
P: And, I imagine you´re considering the possibility of starting legal procedures if it comes to that. (8:33)
C: Javier, I´m going to defend my right to study but the thing is, to be honest, I don´t want to waste years in a legal process. What I want is to spend years studying and learning because the teachers at this university are excellent and the facilities are too. I´m learning and in fact I have just finished a successful art exhibition but what I don´t understand is the attitude of those who run the university – they don´t respond to me.
P: I think you should invite the rector of the Rey Juan Carlos University to your exhibitions. The truth is if I were the rector of this university, I´d be very proud to have a student like Cristina. Because this would ensure that it would put my university on the map of all educational institutions that provide support to students who have specific needs.(9:16) We´re going to show you some images. I´d like you to have a look at the pictures that Cristina has painted and really, with her visual limitations, how can you paint these amazing pictures?
C: It´s possible because last year my drawing teacher thought that I could use clay and my fingers and she told me to draw a tree. From this point on, I started drawing and using the same techniques and materials in my painting classes. Actually, these art works are the result of my classwork and most of them come from my mind. I don´t know why they come but I express my feelings with clay and my fingers.(9:54)
P: A tactile relief is what you use on a wooden board, or on a fabric or…
C: No, on a cardboard.
P: On a cardboard you use clay to make a relief of what you are drawing so that by running your fingertips over the clay, you can discover the contours of the image.
C: That´s it. Also, the contrast of the colours. There are some colours that I can contrast with my magnifiers by analysing them closely and there are others that I can´t distinguish. But it´s easy to ask my professors or classmates. When I get confused about a colour, I ask them, “Which one is the green one, which one is the blue one?” They tell me but sometimes they pull my leg for a second!
P: Ah, it´s just like when a colour-blind person asks you “Does this colour tie suit me?” and you say “yes, yes”! And maybe it´s completely wrong!
C: And this is called inclusion.
P: José-Maria Aguilar, opthamologist. (10:37) Good evening. Remaining vision, that is what Cristina has. Tell us what it means.
JM: Yes, right, I know Cristina´s case very well because I had the chance to meet her when she was, when she started having her vision problems. We did the treatment on her that existed at that time. I personally operated on her – a laser treatment. The truth is that Cristina´s disease, diabetic retinopathy, that she suffered from was at a very advanced stage. Cristina today, is a very serious, capable person at the same she´s very funny and charming as you can imagine. (11:19) In those years when she was 21, a diabetic teenager, well maybe not exactly an adolescent, but she was a crazy young person who used to go out.I think that she couldn´t dedicate enough time to her illness, and due to this being such a complicated illness – as a result of it being so complicated, she had lots of complications, the poor thing. As a consequence of the treatment, we were able to slow down the illness but the damage already done to her retina and vision was tremendous. She had a small degree of vision left, visual acuity is what we called it at that time, which means she had 2 or 3 decimals of vision but her illness continued evolving and developing. Her diabetes was extremely difficult to control at that time. It was only controlled recently infact thanks to the medical advances in this field, like her insulin pump. Also, due to her wide knowledge about the disease which she broadened by attending courses conducted by prestigious diabetic specialists. And nowadays she is an expert as she is a patient of diabetes and it still continued evolving. Despite all of that, she only has a partial vision remaining. In one eye it´s less than one out of ten and in the other, it´s less than one out of 40, so she has very little remaining vision. She belongs to the Spanish National Organisation for the Blind (ONCE) because she meets all the requirements for being declared legally blind. With this minimal remaining vision, she did her law degree because you know she´s a licensed lawyer? As well!
P: As well, yes! You know I think I had to stop looking at her curriculum because I saw her marks and, honestly, it´s intolerable! It´s full of Merits of Honour and Outstandings and I wasn´t even thinking of mentioning it at all!So, I say stop, stop! Go on doctor, go on!(13:07)
JM: The great contribution of Cristina nowadays is to art. She has become an artist which is something amazing. Thanks to these techniques she´s been describing, these modern techniques, so that the blind diabetics, the blind in general, the almost-blind and quasi-blind, can more than perceive the sculptures, or be users, (which is maybe not the nicest word), or spectators of art, but actually they can also be creators. This has been a great contribution of Cristina. Learning how to paint with these special techniques she has already described, with clay, even though the final visual effect, in the end, is that of a painting. (14:00)
P: Cristina, when did you start painting?
C: Last year, in the first year of my Double Degree in Fine Arts and Tourism.
P: Did you have any previous background associated with art/have you ever been interested in art in general?
C: As José María has just said, I was a lawyer until 2006, I mean, that was my profession and no, never. And then, I visited lots of museums due to my Tourism studies because, in this university, Tourism studies are focussed on running tourism enterprises like, museums, spas, etc. I observed the lack of resources and I had to start painting because in this double degree there are some subjects in common with Fine Arts such as drawing and painting.
P: Do you think that if it hadn´t been for your vision problems, maybe you would never have entered this world of art?
C: Probably never. I would never have enteredinto the art world because I would have probably done other things.
P: That can´t be true because today art gives you a lot of satisfaction. (15:03)
C: Well, the walk of life is marvellous and at the end you get a balance and happiness by doing different things from the ones you had thought you were going to do. And that´s it. I always say thank God because I feel like a person who lives a full life.
P: Truly, you are giving us a true-life example of overcoming difficulties and how to continue looking forward to living your life and to be creative and to participate. Moreover, sharing your experience with others so other people with a similar disability can go to the museum and enjoy art. You´re contributing to this project and working towards that.
C: That´s right Javier. It´s more than that. In my modest art exhibition, many people came and applauded when it finished. They hugged me and kissed me and they told me what I was doing was extremely important. They told meit was important because I was showing theirson or daughter of, perhaps 25 years of age,and for example Raquel-I can name her because she let me, to follow your dream and do many things in spite of having many difficulties, things that always give you satisfaction. (16:15) And, if I can do that, I think it´s wonderful!
P: Cristina de Diego, many thanks for joining us this evening and for opening our eyes to many different things.
C: Thanks to you all. I hope that, please, the Rector of Rey Juan Carlos University, or the Vice-rector, will decide to unblock my academic file because I´m doing exams at the moment and of course the academic course is finishing in May. And with a student´s academic file completely shut down, I don´t know where my professors can note down my marks! And then in June, I don´t know how I´m going to be able to register for my next year of studies.
P: You should invite your rector to your next exhibitions and maybe that will open up their eyes to many things.
C: Thank you.
P: Cristina de Diego. She likes to introduce herself as a second-year student but I introduce her as a painter. She´s an artist and this evening she has accompanied us. A small break and … (16:57)
End of Cristina´s interview.