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On ambiguity in art.

[featured image source: Pepperell, R. (2011). Connecting Art and the Brain: An Artist’s Perspective on Visual Indeterminacy. Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, [online] 5. Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3157022/ [Accessed 20 Apr. 2019]

AMBIGUITY IN MY OWN PRACTICE:

Ambiguity has been part of my practice since my first year at university (and maybe even beyond that?), where it began with trying to manipulate the way spectators of my work would perceive visual information – attempting to relate it to the ways in which our brains encode information from the world around us and our experiences of it. That’s how I moved on to memory really.

I see ambiguity in art as a visual translation / representation of our minds – constantly in motion – in a flux – always susceptible to change – always taking in and processing new information – judging and challenging it – in order to make sense of what we are experiencing –

it is a fast paced environment that constantly and relentlessly shifts and adjust – bringing and separating different pieces of information and therefore there never really is just one cohesive image – rather the potential for them – so I picture it as things travelling side by side, passing or hitting each other – which the ambiguous techniques in art can easily help and depict

(and I’m assuming there is a difference between these processes within both the conscious and unconscious parts of the brain and mind)

 

Ambiguous images are ones that are hard to comprehend at first – hard to read and interpret – which is challenging for the viewer – focusing them to inspect the whole image rather than just one focused section which draws their attention

they’re unsure of what they are looking at

And although I’m getting there I feel like my practice still needs to improve in that respect – because at the moment I still have works that have a focused point – rather than FLOATING IMAGES which is kind of what I’m aiming for


“CONNECTING ART AND THE BRAIN: AN ARTIST’S PERSPECTIVE ON VISUAL INDETERMINACY”

Pepperell, R. (2011). Connecting Art and the Brain: An Artist’s Perspective on Visual Indeterminacy. Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, [online] 5. Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3157022/ [Accessed 20 Apr. 2019].

Since my work has been focusing on ambiguity (both visual and conceptual I guess with the ideas of ethereality etc.) for quite some time now – I though it would be beneficial to look at some research, so that I can understand the technique and its effects in more detail.

The paper that I look at here, I’ve had saved for quite some time now, and I thought it’s finally the time to make some notes on it so that I can really process the argument, and perhaps use it as a reference point later in the future, when I continue with my practice and look at further research into ambiguity in art.

[As a next step I’ve started reading “For Want of Ambiguity: Order and Chaos in Art, Psychoanalysis and Neuroscience” but currently don’t have enough notes on it to approach its arguments]

 

NOTES ON THE JOURNAL:

  • ‘visual indeterminacy’
    • a perceptual state / phenomenon in which subjects fail to recognise objects from visual cues
    • “a seemingly meaningful visual stimulus that denies easy or immediate identification”
  • references to the phenomenon can be found in literature on visual agnosia and object recognition
  • shapes that don’t seemingly form a meaningful whole
An external file that holds a picture, illustration, etc.Object name is fnhum-05-00084-g001.jpg
 

Once the face shows up in the frame the image automatically becomes recognisable? (image from Pepperell, R. (2011). Connecting Art and the Brain: An Artist’s Perspective on Visual Indeterminacy. Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, [online] 5. Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3157022/ [Accessed 20 Apr. 2019])

 

  • “an active struggle to make sense of [what is being seen]”
  • WASSILY KANDINSKY: “unconsciously, objects were discredited as an essential element within the picture”
    • the object looses its power to impact the spectator because of how difficult it may be to recognise it and associate as well as attach any meanings to it – therefore it is deprived of its usual impact on the observer
    • MEMORY plays a key part in this recognition process
  • GERARD RICHTER: his work can be understood in terms of ‘indeterminacy’ rather than seeing it is as either realistic (in conventional sense) or abstract (non-representational)
    • “trying to produce a sense of UNCERTAINTY, lack of fixedness, which draws the viewer in to try and resolve what they are seeing.”

“Pictures which are interpretable, and which contain a meaning, are bad pictures [a good picture on the other hand] demonstrates the endless multiplicity of aspects, it takes away our certainty, because it deprives a thing of its meaning and its name.”

“When we do not find anything, we are frustrated and that keeps us excited and interested until we have to turn away because we are bored”

  • artists as ‘vision scientists’ “exploring how certain kinds of images engage the visual system and how we make sense of the world.”
  • “I was trying to produce a picture of SUFFICIENT COMPLEXITY to strongly suggest the presence of some object or scene yet at the same [time] deny easy or immediate identification.”
  • it is really difficult to produce visually indeterminate images – to ‘trap’ the human visual system
    • “human visual system is extraordinarily effective at rapidly identifying objects in perception” (Thorpe et al., 1996; Rousselet et al., 2002)

      • the image can be either TOO NOISY – in which case it is categorised as “meaningless” – stopping any attempts at trying to discern the objects
      • or, have the smallest of clues that can automatically indicate an object to our brain – e.g. two dots and a curve
    • BALANCING ABSTRACTION
  • ROBERT PEPPERELL on his own work:
    • used structure of European paintings made between 1500’s and early 1900’s, and “manipulating those features of the image that would be readily recognised” – this would produce a CONSISTENTLY INDETERMINATE IMAGE
An external file that holds a picture, illustration, etc.Object name is fnhum-05-00084-g006.jpg
 

Pepperell, Paralysis, Oil on panel, 27 cm × 33 cm, 2006. Private collection. [image from: Pepperell, R. (2011). Connecting Art and the Brain: An Artist’s Perspective on Visual Indeterminacy. Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, [online] 5. Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3157022/ [Accessed 20 Apr. 2019])

 

    • “They would FIXATE on an area in which they though the saw a human limb or a piece of cloth, but would then realise that this was a false start, and would look for some other SALIENT FEATURE to pin their interpretation on.”
      • when questioned about their experience people generally though it was “exciting”, but that the images were “disturbing” or “made them feel anxious”
  • examples of visual indeterminacy in scientific background includes illusions such as: Necker Cube, the Duck-Rabbit Illusion, the Boring Vase – which have “ALTERNATING INTERPRETATIONS”
    • these “direct the viewer to search for objects that are CONCEALED

“during the period where viewers are searching for meaning among the pictorial clues something is occurring in their cognitive processing which is DIFFERENT from that occurring during normal recognition”

Pepperell, R. (2011). Connecting Art and the Brain: An Artist’s Perspective on Visual Indeterminacy. Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, [online] 5. Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3157022/ [Accessed 20 Apr. 2019])
  • SUPP ET AL. (2005)
    • EEG techniques to test the changes in CORTICAL NETWORKS
    • showed participant sequences of recognisable and unrecognisable grey scale images
    • RESULTS: “marked increase in cooperation in certain parts of the brain and a greater degree of overall COHERENCE between different regions during the viewing of unrecognisable pictures as compared with recognisable ones.”
      • unrecognisable images stimulating the brain more – it’s cooperation across the different areas
      • “reflected the GREATER DEMANDS made on the viewer’s perceptual and cognitive resources
  • ISHAI ET AL., (2007)
    • tested responses to colour and monochrome sets
    • FINDINGS:
      • “people were claiming to see things they recognised on average 24% of the time” – effect was stronger with colour images
    • indeterminate art calling for a greater degree of cognitive processing

HOW I CAN USE THE RESEARCH TO INFORM MY OWN PRACTICE?

MEMORY as a KEY INGREDIENT in the process – my work not only experimenting with my own recall and trying to represent the ethereal process of thought and memory – would also gain an additional layer to it, which emphasises the previous two

Putting the process in action – onto the spectator which would have to use their own memory and imagination in parallel to try to decipher the meaning of the artwork, and to comprehend it on their own terms.

I have also really struggled in finding the BALANCE in this abstraction – it has either been to noisy and saturated with ‘random’ pieces of information or has clearly portrayed a face

To not let there be one point on which the observer could fixate on? – although this does not mean that composition wise it needs to be spread out – I can still chose an area of the page to focus my lines on, just try not to dictate a point to fixate on?

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