Monday, March 01, 2004

Does anyone else look like me?

There is just time for two sightings. More precisely there is no time whatever but none like the present. I have a terrible thought of all these words pouring out of all these brains. Moreover the flood of words comes with a torrent of pictures. Piling up in this stinking landfill of ideas, uneaten. Still, eager scavengers wheel overhead, thriving.

My bit of junk today can be connected to my views about that bench. More precisely my view of it, as an ambassador between the world of natural things, with their unknowable logic (book: Gleick/Porter : Nature's Chaos), and our purposeful objects. Each tiny mark within its texture is an echo of this interplay. The scratchings on the green cells living upon its once freshly machined surface, and all around other evidence of nature's re-colonisation of it. The brave, yet sinister, circles for the manly bolts. The natural bulge at the far end where a hefty branch once joined the main trunk. The memory of its former life as a simple tree.

Most of this is in the mind of the makers as well. But some marks made by once deliberately made objects are entirely unintentional. Tyre tracks after a crash. The glint of a beer bottle in the verge. Stately domes, chasms, avenues of a city in peeling paint.

Today I found an eddy in that torrent which seems to collect some of this dust. I like Cathy Mullins' images, and the way that they focus on un-attended details. This particular stream (PODart) bravely explores the possibility of new networks for carrying on a 100-year-old quest: freezing the flood of the eye.

Flooding a problem? Try sticking a finger in.

Another sighting, remembered, is Jonathan Miller's exploration of this territory. He is another gazer who has focused on nothing in particular. And with good effect. This interview (search for Nothing in Particular) catches a little of his well-known diversity of thought, but nothing of the intensity of his voice. I gripely suspect that being who he is, doors may open more readily into publishers' and curators' offices. But who am I to grizzle, being a happy seagull with lots of tasty morsels on the tip below me.

Actually I've got a bit of serious pecking to do with Miller. In his otherwise delightful writings On Reflection (see this review and extract ) he focuses on the monocular aspects of vision almost entirely. There is much insight into the paradox of reflection -- the perfect mirror withdrawing from perception -- and its consequent puzzle for the painter. But, a vital quality about seeing is missed.

In exactly the same way that sound is not simply a waveform but a wavefront, having multiplicity of sources each with a particular direction and special characteristic (real sound is surround sound, and here we are in the era of mechanically reproduced such sounds), light, and so vision, is essentially three-dimensional. Our two eyes and many directions of bodily motion (including the many motions of the eye itself) allow us to sample this three-dimensional light pattern. Perspective is almost entirely a single eye task, and hence can be faithfully reproduced on a flat sheet. But our brains rely on many clues to establish the mind's image of its world.

Reflections in particular are characterised not only by their intensity and spatial pattern in the so-called image plane, but also their location in three-dimensional space. This is why photographs can be so wrong (and thereby artful). They are merely 2D projections of a 3D world. The particular glint in a window which any viewer, including the photographer, could have ignored if it was several yards behind the intended subject can appear, maybe as evidence of the photographer's own subjective existence, as the dominant object.

I don't know why, but this particular thought needled me continually during, and for weeks after Miller's 1998 National Gallery exhibition, Mirror Image.

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