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.

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.