The installation Peripheral Panorama in Het Filmhuis Den Haag, dealt with the notion that we can never really ‘see’ what happens in our peripheral vision, because the moment we are made aware of something in our peripheral vision and focus on it, it becomes part of our central vision. This not only changes the location of the observed but also the way we see it – when we focus we see it in detail and colour. I was very pleased with the opportunity to make a large scale installation, but was never fully satisfied with the presentation itself. Because of competition rules – the work had to relate to The Hague – this meant changing my original idea in a way that, as it turned out, didn’t work as well as I had hoped.
While working on it, I started looking into the way our vision works. I was surprised to discover how little is known about how our brains handle the input it receives from our eyes, and how the input the eyes send on to the brain must be completely different from the coherent visual world we perceive to be around us. E.g. why do we not see the blind spot? How can we account for an all-round colour sensation when our eyes can only perceive colour around the center of the visual field? Why don’t we register blinking with our eyes or the constant involuntary movements our eyes make?
In this project I would like to continue what I started in Peripheral Panorama, but on a much broader conceptual scale, without the restrictions of competition rules. I want to capture what an eye ‘sees’ before this information is passed on to the brain and I want to use this information to produce works which question the nature of visual perception.
In order to gather the input required, I need to be able to capture the Saccadic movements of the eyes. Saccadic movements are rapid involuntary movements the eyes make constantly (app. 3 times per second and micro saccades app. 60 per second!). We do not register these movements consciously, however, they are essential to our visual perception; they provide a ‘refresh’ signal to the colour and light sensitive cones and rods in the eyes without which we wouldn’t see anything at all.
My aim is to develop a flexible modus operandi which will allow me to collect eye movement data from different sorts of environments and subsequently use that data to create filmic representations of the visual information received by the eyes. Along with representations of other ‘problems’ for the brain – sharpness and colour fading in the peripheral vision, blind spot etc. – this should result in unsettling, but strangely familiar imagery. I want to use these videos in installations which put the viewer in a position where he’s confronted with questions on how his own visual reality is made up. One way of presenting the videos would be to integrate them into my Cave structures. On the inside the Caves provide dark, intimate, almost claustrophobic settings, while from the outside they appear as semi-organic, foreboding and self containing structures. Because they are completely dark inside and strangely shaped on the outside, they feel bigger once you enter. The same way with our vision – somehow it produces something larger on the ‘inside’, than what we can measure on the outside.
The videos themselves are meant to be applicable for several different installations and presentations.
It would be important to make videos portraying different kinds of input e.g. looking at a painting, looking in a mirror, watching TV, walking in a forest, watching striptease etc. This would add to the conceptual layering of the overall installations, and provide a new way of looking at or (re)presenting everyday visual information.
It would also be interesting to look at the videos in relation to other movie projections. In a filmhouse you could make the currently playing movie(s) the subject for the eye movement footage. Thus, you would have the ‘real’ movie playing and at the same time (or afterwards) in a single screen projection, the movie such as your eyes would have just registered the projection screen. The viewer would instantly recognize parts and fragments, but the overall impression would be completely different.
During the course of the project I will be collecting advice and data from several different sources with expertise within the field of vision. I would like to put together a book or compendium about the themes of the project with contributions from scientists, media theorists, filmmakers, artists and art theorists.
Early on I contacted The Arts and Genomics Centre, TAGC, and we agreed to collaborate on this project. They have already helped me in the preliminary research and by establishing contact with the Nederlands Instituut voor Neurowetenschappen, NIN, at the Amsterdam Medisch Centrum. At the NIN, we have had meetings with the heads of two of the labs, Prof. Pieter Roelfsma, director of the NIN and head of the research department Vision & Cognition, and Prof. Maarten Kamermans, head of the department for Retinal Signal Processing. Both were enthusiastic about my approach to the topic, which they agreed was completely different from their way of approaching vision. Whereas their field of interest deals with the physiology of the eye, my interest lies with the psychology of seeing. Nevertheless, their knowledge of how the visual system works can help me visualize my ideas. They agreed to provide me with some of the equipment and software I will need for the project. They were also interested in contributing to the publication I have in mind for this project.
The next step in the project will consist of asking for sponsoring by companies producing eyetracking equipment. The TAGC is already looking into this and we hope to be able to approach the first companies in early 2008.
So, the schedule looks like this:
- The first task will be to develop a procedure.
- Thereafter I will focus on gathering footage for the final works.
- The final stage will be to bring it all together – processing the footage, and working out plans to install it.
I estimate approximately 2 months per stage, starting around February 2008. By September 2008 I should have a first finished version to present. The publication will not be ready until after the first presentation, as it should also contain a presentation of the project as well as reflections on the presentation.