Notes on the Peripheral Panorama
If you look at the pilosophical root of science and compare it to the philosophical implications of modern science, you seem to end up with a conundrum. The first takes its outset in doubt and basically says “don’t trust your senses or any information given to you by them, because our senses can fool us”, and the latter states something along the lines of “it is impossible to talk of a reality ‘outside’ our sensory apparatus”. I have always thought of the cartesian angst of ‘being fooled by ones senses’ as somewhat overrated. The question remains, however, whether the latter statement makes it impossible to ‘be fooled by ones senses’. This would contradict if not common sense, then at least common experience. However, if we turned the argument around it might not have to. Instead of thinking something is wrong with my sensory input when I see something someone else doesn’t see, I should regard it as a conflict between my sensory apparatus and his sensory apparatus. This conflict only arises if we demand to be able to share everything, even the perception of our reality, and could easily be laid to rest by embracing a statement like: “I trust the reality of my sensory input, but accept that this reality may not be shared by others”. This means that we must accept that our shared reality may not be the complete reality (in fact we should disperse of the term ‘complete reality’), or at least that we can choose to see a shared reality as part of a wider definition and experience of reality. Reality is subjective and only where it happens to overlap someone else’s subjective reality, consensus arises and we can then enter into meaningful communication about it.
Peripheral vision is the part of our field of view which lies outside of our central vision. The peripheral vision is basically a colourless blur, in which only contrasts and movement are detected. The eye is not physically capable of detecting detail outside of the center. This, however, is not how we experience the surroundings outside our central focus.
Every time something changes in the peripheral vision, our focus is directed to whatever caused that change. In a sense we determine which part of our world is in focus simply by looking at it. If we don’t look, it remains a blur.
A Panorama is a contraption, not unlike a cinema, designed to trick the viewer into believing he’s somewhere else. Everything is constructed around confusing the viewer, to fool his senses. In The Panorama Mesdag you experience a representation of Scheveningen as it looked to the painter 125 years ago. From there you can walk to Scheveningen and see for yourself what it looks like today.
The word Panorama means something like ‘all encompassing view’.
In Peripheral Panorama you don’t get an ‘all encompassing view’. You get to see two representations of my peripheral vision as I retraced the periphery of Mesdag’s representation of Scheveningen 125 years ago. One gives you detail, the other tries to emulate the visual input I received.
It was never my intention to strive for any sort of objectiveness in this presentation. In fact, I hope each viewer will allow himself to be fooled by his senses and experience a reality which he is unable to communicate to his fellow man.
I like to think of our mind as a ‘void-filler’. It attributes meaning to our surroundings by interpreting and labeling structurs as recognizable objects. This process is not part of our conscious thinking – it is pre-conscious or sub-conscious.
With this installation I wanted to see if, by taking advantage of a peculiarity of the way we see, the peripheral vision, it would be possible to force the ‘void-filling’, at least partially, into the conscious thought-process.
Among other things this would require control over the viewers visual input – no disturbances allowed. This is similar to the setup of a cinema, and in particular one of its precursors, The Panorama. I decided to make use of some of the tricks used in the constructin of traditional panoramas.
The closer the construction came to completion, the more I came to think of it as a ‘one man cinema’. There is one vantagepoint within the installation from which you should be able to encompass the whole view within your peripheral vision. However, I doubt you’ll be able to restrain your focus to that point for long. Because of the shifting contrasts and movement playing at the corners of your eye, your mind will force your focus back and forth trying to make sense of the imagery – in effect, trying to fill the void.
Peripheral Panorama was a video installation built specifically for the Project space, Zaal 5, in The Filmhouse in The Hague. As winner of the annual prize competetion, Workspace07, I adapted an idea from an earlier work to fit the specific setting of both The Hague and the space itself. The installation consisted of a large maze-like structure which the viewer had to enter and walk through in order to view the main video screens. The two screens were set at an angle to each other and the viewer so that they corresponded with the viewer’s peripheral vision. Standing at the right spot, he could encompass both screens within his peripheral vision. However, when doing so, he found himself staring into the darkness between the two screens, which corresponded with his central vision, the visual field where we normally see things in detail. The movies shown on the two screens were shot at a similar angle to each other while walking through the areas in The Hague which had been painted by Mesdag for the Panorama Mesdag in the late 1800’s. The footage had been altered to resemble an estimation of how the peripheral vision is ‘seen’ by our eyes. Only movement, colour and contrast remained.
The steady walking movement and the shifting scenery created the experience of moving forward through something but not being able to discern what or where. Some viewers described it as ‘seeing through someone else’s eyes’. Others found the lack of central vision disturbing because they felt a loss of control.
Once the viewer exited the maze, he was offered a view of the original, unedited footage used in the Panorama. On a single monitor, the two movies were played sequentially and with sound. Here the viewer could see in detail what my peripheral vision had ‘seen’ while filming, but he lost the overview of the Panorama.
I am interested in emulating and visualizing the way our senses work. By presenting a ‘video’ version of the peripheral vision, emphasis is put on the discrepancy between how visual information enters our brain and how we (our brain) presents that information to us. There is an apparent ‘misunderstanding’ in our understanding of how we percieve the world. Not only is it impossible to talk of an objective world ‘out there’ to be sensed, but even if it were so, we still wouldn’t be able to ‘see’ it through anything but the filters of our brain. Basically, what that comes down to is, that the world as we know it is a neurological construction and that, when we sense, we sense a neurological projection triggered by stimuli principally unknown to us.
This also means that when we see, we do not see through our eyes like we see through a pair of binoculars, rather the eyes and the visual cortex make up the visual sensation of seeing. In its extreme this means that what we see is the world – no matter if no one else sees it like we do.
In the Panorama, the brain is taken out of the perceptional equation so that the viewer gets an impaired (or, more accurate) image of how our perception works.