The Afterimage experiment week 1
September 9, 2011, 12:18 pm
Filed under: Phil Lambert

For the first part of the residency I will be working in the space and invite you to come and join me on Friday the 16th September. For the second part of the residency I will be mounting an informal exhibition hang.

The joys of thinking…. floating around in a world of possibilities only hampered by the limits of your own creativity. This is I suppose a little of what we artists are trying to share with people. What had seemed perfectly reasonable in the planning stages of this residency is now beginning to feel like a half remembered dream. You know that feeling when you wake from a nice dream and you wish you could go back to sleep, but however much you try, you cant. “The wall, the damn wall, if only Marius had built it out of wood….”

Come on… wake up wake up…. you have to get to work. Deal with reality, thats the important thing… be practical. Focus, wake up… wake up…

The shapes on the cover of the book next to me swirm like snakes warping the paper they are drawn on in a very disconcerting way. Eat more, sleep more – relax…. Its ok…its only an illusion. ‘An introduction to basic Vision’… its funny that it wasnt untill today that I noticed the squirming snakes.

I started painting as an observational painter – painting the world exactly as I saw it. Studies of bowls and glasses with intricate glaze effects and trompe l’oeil detail, but over the past few years this has become increasingly complex. Now I am not even sure that I see. The dream has become confused with reality. Do I see the bowl as a bowl because I expect to see a bowl? What would happen if no one had ever seen a bowl before? What does my baby daughter see? I suppose you might think that, like a camera, you would see a gradation of tones and colours and see an object, but just not know that it is a bowl. Well, we are not cameras, and vision doesnt work quite like that. Psychologists studying vision are busy detailing interconnected modules within our brains that have evolved through time to pick out stimuli that are important to us. So for example we see lines because it is useful to have a module that is specific in picking out the boundaries of objects. We are particularly receptive to faces because, unsurprisingly, they have been very important in the successful propagation and evolution of our species. And so on. Much of what we see just doesnt register at all, because it is unimportant, and some of what we see may be deliberatly ignored. The eye may essentially be likened to a camera obscura but our perception, and our consciousness of perception are far more complex. These have evolved through necessity and have not come fully formed or complete, like a faithful photograph, and they are not concerned at all with a notion of reality or truth only functionality.

As a colour blind artist, I have been working on the subjective and objective qualities of colour over the last two years. Colour only exists within us and as such we can never now whether any two people see the same colours, we can never truly share the experience of seeing blue with anyone and yet it corresponds to an objective scale of measurable wavelengths. This is the subjective and emotional nature of experience verses the objective and rational nature of science. Here we could go into a fascinating philsophical discussion centred around Plato, Hume and Kant, but I wont… this first blog entry has gone on long enough already.

(note I write blogs as if no one will ever read them, I dont know if this is true? But I feel they should be treated as an opportunity to let words flow uncensored, they are  not essays afterall).

Back to the residency… In the blacked out basement of the Milkwood gallery I am taking the opportunity to experiment with vision. The main area of interest is with afterimages. This is the phenomena where ‘real’ colours seem to burn their opposite colours into the retina so that when you look away you see a negative image. This highlights the artificial nature of colour, as here colour is not produced by an external stimulus and detected by the eye, but instead it is produced by the eye and imposed upon the external world. This had previously been seen as an entirely optical phenomena (photoreceptive chemicals temporarily depleted in the retinal cells), but recently psychologists are exploring the mechanisms that turn on and off the perception of these phenomena, and these are controlled by the higher perceptual centres. This highlights the brains role in deciding what we see and how we see it. This has massive implications for our understanding of the variation between each others own distinctive perceptions of the world and also towards the construction and viability of our consciousness itself.

But for now, I invite you to come down to the basement and work with me in exploring the effects of illusions and to discuss their significance. This project has been conducted with the very generous help and support of Georgie Powell a second year PHD student from Cardiff University studying afterimages. Hopefully she will be able to join us for the opening evening on Friday the 16th and provide you with a clearer description than I can.


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