The work I've been pursuing in the last couple of years has been influenced by the idea of perception as a creative process. What this means is that when we look, hear and otherwise sense the world around us, the combined sensation we experience is not a mirror-like reflection of reality, but an ongoing, constructed, internal model.
It's not a new idea, in fact it has been the essential paradigm since Kant's so-called 'Copernican Revolution'. But I believe these ideas are intellectually and culturally crucial in an age of overpopulation, multiculturalism and burgeoning globalisation; in which value system clashes are increasingly common.
I think that highlighting the powerful creative process of our individual perception can have an empowering effect, as it places us in the driving seat. First, I want to expand on this idea, and then I want to discuss how it is influencing my work.
I've always been fascinated by the textures of rocks, stones, bricks and other repeated but unpredictable surfaces. There is so much differentiation across the surface of a rock, so many peaks and troughs, that it is impossible to focus on and remember the intricate detail of even one small section at a time.
On one end of the scale, we know from school that a grain of sand contains billions of billions (of billions) of atoms. And that each atom is enormous compared to the tiny particles it in turn is made of.
And at the other end of the scale, we know that the universe is so large that the extent of it we can even see is determined by the time it took the light to travel - billions of years - and that it goes on beyond that in all directions.
There is so much going on around us every moment, and we are permanently and fundamentally incapable of noting, perceiving, processing all this complexity. Instead we live our whole lives working only with generalisations: abstractions, metaphors, categories, narratives, histories, empirical models and so on.
And we are built to take much of these abstractions at face value, as though they inhere in the fabric of reality itself. It's a process which is fundamental to conscious life - it would be impossible to live (or to ever make a decision) without being able to do it.
Some of these abstractions - cultural differences, language and so on, are learned. Going deeper, many of the more fundamental abstractions are built into our perceptual apparatus, because they are essential to both our perceptual process, and are essential aspects of the things being perceived.
We've all seen the optical illusions that demonstrate perceptual flaws. But optical illusions don't just demonstrate holes in an otherwise flawless perceptual process - they demonstrate the constructive way in which our entire experience is presented to us as reality.
For example, our eyes contain lenses, like those in a camera, which focus light onto a retina. A retina is a patch of light-sensitive tissue much like film. Like cameras, eyes are only capable of producing 2D images. The 3D world we experience is an internal mental construction, created by triangulating the positions of objects based on images from both eyes.
There may be a 3D world out there in front of us, but the 3D world we experience in our minds is a construction. It's a construction which enables us to navigate the 3D world it represents, but it's a construction nonetheless.
A couple more examples. Colour is just the brain's way of representing different wavelengths of light (i.e. wavelengths of electromagnetic radiation from the sun). Each surface in front of us reflects a particular wavelength based on it's pigmentation, and our visual system assigns that wavelength an appropriate colour to help us navigate and respond appropriately to the things around us.
Our ears only sense changes in air pressure, but if someone is bouncing a ball behind you, you have an innate sense of the position. Your brain is combining data across the senses: performing complex sound frequency analysis and comparisons from both ear drums, borrowing from your memory of the scene the last time you looked in that direction, and continually updating the constructed model of reality you perceive.
And it only gets more complicated from there - add to this the intricacies of spoken language, facial cues, body language, taste, smell, hunger, fear, emotion, instinctive or learned over a lifetime, and automatically embedded into our perceptual process. We have the ability to override parts of this model, to reason our way past it and so on. But the model is a construction, and a large web of associations - some native to our DNA, the rest built from previous experience - determine how we currently experience it.
How much of what we perceive in an object inheres in the object itself? And what happens when we are presented with genuinely new experiences?
Various art movements have attempted to heighten people's bodily awareness, of their creative perception in action, inspired by Merleau-Ponty, minimalism and embodied viewing.
But what I'm interested in doing is not so much to increase the awareness of embodied space, but instead to reduce the foothold of the nexus of previous associations. To force new associations to be quickly constructed to account for the new phenomena.
Each time we travel to a new place, meet somebody new or different, this process of disorientation and new construction can occur. But when it happens in life, it's often muddied by the hustle and bustle of daily social reality, and of preconceived associations. I'm interested in creating spaces where this process can happen in relative isolation, so that the phenomenon on display can be appreciated on it's own terms.
To do this, I am experimenting with a technique of projected audio and video, with the two synthetically intertwined. I believe this approach can work to achieve these ends for a number of reasons.
Firstly, projection means low-light. As a viewer, the enveloping void of space around created in a night sky reduces the efficacy of the 3D-triangulation apparatus in your brain, offering you less certainty in the internal world you create. It offers less connection to specific other objects, and creates a space where the brightly-lit video is the focal point.
Secondly, advances in computer technology in the last several years have made it possible to intertwine sound and light patterns in a way that is genuinely new. This provides a space for exploration where new multi-sensory spatial patterns can be created, reducing the baggage of learned preconception. The key mistake to avoid here is over-stimulation - it is best to avoid a sense of a 'light show', as that has a specific set of built-in associations.
Thirdly, the projection-mapping technique allows textures, light patterns, colours and so on to be 'warped' around objects, so that the objects are 'reskinned'. Again, the pitfall to avoid here is making the resulting light patterns too 'neat' or configured in a way which confirms or reminds of existing associations.
The space is 'alien', but it is not empty.
The space can be fully alive, but it takes the isolation and presentation as 'alien' to make such alien spaces live. The idea is to reduce the foothold of existing associations, but also to present a new space for exploration. In a space like this we can make a leap from that alien space, and try to find a connection in it - to find value from valuelessness.