The after image project – part 2
September 27, 2011, 1:56 pm
Filed under: Phil Lambert

The space has been converted from blacked out laboratory for visual perception to something resembling a cross between a gallery space and an unlicensed basement bar.

This transformation perfectly supports the mix of influences in the paintimgs that are exhibited here. These works draw on a mix of influences from the graphic design of boardgames and a scientific aesthetic, which could easily be related to the Abstract Modernism of artists like Theo Van Doesburg and Mondrian. In fact, the intentions are nearer the Neo-Geo concerns of early Jeff Koons And Peter Halley or perhaps the overlooked British Constructivist works of Martin Kenneth (examples of both Kenneth and Halley’s work below). For these paintings use the influences from perception studies and game play to suggest mechanism for negotiating a subjective and personal truth. Rather than the universal and objective truth so loved by science and 21 century society.

Ok, that sounds like rubbish art speak… I’ll have a go at making this more simple but make no promises that I will succeed.

The paintings point out, through the use of visual illusions, that perception is not a hollistic and singular experience. Instead it is a mix of evolved sensitivities to particular sensations across the visual field. So for example, the dotty illusion painting, which produces a strobing effect of black dots across the grid creates its effect by targeting a few specific aspects of our perceptual makeup.  Although the mechanisms involved in the Scintillating grid (for this is how psychologists know it) are not completely known, it appears the grid system confuses cells designed to find edges and creates an illusion of black dots in the higher visual areas. So our perception can easily be tricked into seeing things that are not there and it can also easily fail to notice many things that are there, as they are deemed unimportant.

But are these art?

“Its an interesting question as to when an illusion or perceptual stimuli becomes a work of art, and the other way round. I think all works of art are a kind of perceptual or psychological stimuli, designed to produce certain effects in the viewer, and your work clearly demonstrates this.” Rob Pepperell (Professor of Fine Art UWIC) on the works in this exhibition.

I guess I am trying to find a truth… maybe a truth is too crude a term… I am trying to understand experience. In particular, I am trying to understand what the arts and specifically paintings are today. On the one hand as Rob describes they are illusions designed to create sensations and perceptions that are not really there. A Turner sunset can maybe induce some blissful emotion or a Constable landscape can recreate the feeling of a blustery day in Somerset so convincingly that you swear you can see the leaves move in the trees surrounding the fields. Whilst the ability of a work of art to stimulate emotions is still valid, we ultimately have to choose to allow it to do this, otherwise that Turner could just be chocolate boxy or irrelevant posh stuff. So what determines the cultural circumstances where we are able to experience art, and is this more important than the qualities of the art?

This is where the game play aspect comes in. Wittgenstein describes how we negotiate meaning in ‘language games’ (sprachspiel). This has many implications for the development of relations of power and creation of meaning within communities, but I want to take this at its most simple level. One day, my niece asked me to play a game with her. She described what I had to do, but it soon became clear that she was making up the rules of the game as we went along. Despite the fact that I was doomed to always loose, I played along in good faith. This got me thinking about the ways in which we create meaning, weaving together multiple perceptions and histories to propose rules for ourselves as we go. How this basic game play is used at many different levels, from the negotiation between different brain modules in creating perception and consciousness to the negotiations in language and further on to the negotiations involved in creating much more complex cultural creations such as the arts. These are not defined by the rules, because they are always in flux, like some sort of perpetual phoenix, but are defined by the dynamics of the negotiations or games taking place.

So come and join me, and I hope that in looking at these paintings you begin to sense an emotion created by the mix of playful aesthetics and emergent logic. If you do, thank you for allowing this to happen and if you don’t, if you regard these works to be far too dry, then I make no apologies as I can not make an artwork without trying to understand what is happening. This I guess is a symptom of our post enlightenment age.


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