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Without Sight

When Ashland's First Friday art walk commences Nov. 2, performance artist Candace Younghans will sit in the window of Antiquarian Books & Antiques, blindfold herself in front of an iMac screen of streaming images, and fast.

The 36-year-old Ashland resident will continue her vigil for seven days and nights, all to pose the question, "Without the images, who am I?"

She will drink water and sleep on a bed in the window. She may stand, walk, pace or briefly address questions posed by customers exploring vintage books for ideas to toss at the daring and hungry Younghans, who acknowledges her vigil won't be easy.

"I'm doing it because I'm curious about what life would be like and how my struggles might be different, had I not been influenced by these stories all my life," she says of images found in ads, magazines, movies and the Internet. "And I want other people to think about it, too."

To go without food and sight for a week is "definitely going to be a spiritual experience," Younghans says.

But she hopes her performance art will turn people's attention from the Internet as the burgeoning repository of all knowledge and encourage them to browse the store's array of books, art and antiques that people rarely see or touch.

"We have a parallel mission to hers, focusing on how do we get information and what do we do with it?" says Antiquarium co-owner David Ralston. "This is a cultural repository. Much of it is archaic and we are the guardians of something that's slipping away very rapidly. If we don't foster it, it goes away."

Younghans will launch her "installation" from 5 to 7 p.m. Friday at the store, 297 E. Main St. Also featured at the bookstore for First Friday will be anthropologist David West of Southern Oregon University and traditional songs from the Whistling Elk Drum Circle, led by Dan Wahpepah of Ashland.

"I'm blindfolded to hear better and experience the world without visual judgment," says Younghans, a devotee of yoga, power lifting and Feldenkrais (a mind-body approach to movement and awareness). "It heightens the other senses. I'm drawn to this universal experience and that's not a small thing. I want to express the process of the artistic experience over the end product."

She invites people to read to her from books at the store and other offerings.

"I will hear in a way entirely new, without the sensory overload, especially visual," she says. Her computer screen will stream the endless images from modern culture that flood people's brains and keep them from truly experiencing the world, she adds.

"My desire is to go deep inside myself and what really matters and live by that," she says. "I'm seeking respite from the visual stimulation and the demands of visual interaction."

The performance piece is a fundraiser for her Heart Warrior Project, a wilderness, creative, self-expression retreat and performance art project for veterans reintegrating into society after combat in the Mideast wars, says Younghans, who volunteers as a teacher of storytelling and performance expression at Southern Oregon Rehabilitation Center and Clinics in White City.

The daughter of a Korean War veteran, Younghans says, "I've seen enough of the pain."

Decrying the chaotic influx of "desensitizing" data, Antiquarium co-owner Susan Lloyd notes in a statement that will be displayed during the installation, "As wondrous as the Internet is, this virtual place where we can instantly Google and read about any subject imaginable, we ask ... where is the human element, the relationship between the youth and an elder who carries knowledge and traditions and can convey his spirit and enthusiasm and be a living example to the next generation?

"Will this ancient tradition wither and die?"

John Darling is a freelance writer living in Ashland. Email him at jdarling@jeffnet.org.