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Banbury Cross

a pillow for lost thoughts...

Post details: Point of view

Point of view

When I was in college, I used to make my own black and white photographs using an enigmatic process that involved silver, dark room, a bulb of red light, my Dad's arcane German made enlarger, two basins with some chemical solutions and an assortment of plastic pliers. One day I was processing a film with images of my girlfriend and by mistake tossed the photographic paper into the basin upside down. When her facial features started to bloom on the silver emulsion, I noticed that something was amiss. She looked like a distant sister of herself when viewed upside down. Even later, when I repeated the experiment in full daylight, I could barely recognize her. When flipped, the ordinarily familiar face provided no hooks my memory could hitch into. It was like trying to pick up a suitcase with its handle facing inward. That was the day I realized that point of view can turn familiar objects into enigmatic gardens of imagination.

When we process information, we rely heavily on context. When we see a face, we always see the eyes above the nose, the nose above the lips and the lips above the chin. Context is the skeleton which we flesh out with particular details. A template which makes it easier for us to store the image in memory. But that simplicity is offset by the loss of information. We don't need to remember every line, every shape, every texture, every contour - they can be inferred. Consequently, we often don't even perceive them. Only when we lose the crutches of context, the features we haven't spotted before are suddenly revealed to us.

This phenomenon can be illuminating both in sciences and arts. Let me use the science I know reasonably well - mathematics - as an example.

There are two kinds of mathematicians. Manipulators - who discover mathematical truths by skillful prestidigitation of algebraic objects, and seers who get at the crux of the matter by visualizing the geometric model of quantities at hand. Being on the geometry side myself, I often draw schemes and diagrams. Sometimes when I am at the end of my wits and need a little push, I turn my scribbles upside down, and a whole new set of possibilities fills the paper with a seductive dance. All of a sudden, the music of spheres is everywhere. The moral of the story is that we don't need new data to make a breakthrough, we just need a new point of view.

In arts, the point of view has even larger potential. In fact, one could say that the whole history of arts is the trace of a struggle to find a new viewpoint. Or at least rotate the old one. I have a secret wish - an exhibition where some daring soul will hang all the photographs upside down, giving the visitors the rare pleasure of passing through the rabbit hole and exploring a quaint wonderland: a piano hanging from the floor, a diver hurtling upwards from a high board, a sky supporting vast stretches of corn fields.

It will be an exhilarating voyage into a whole new world. Neatly tucked in the one we know, yet tickling us with a feathery mental vertigo.



Comment from: MJ [Visitor]
There may not be much 'new under the sun'- one of your secret wishes has already been fulfilled: Rebecca Horn's upside down piano in Concert for Anarchy in the Tate Collection, but the exquisite expression of your perceptive, innovative insights is a rare gift, not only for you, but especially for those of us fortunate to be your beneficiaries.
Permalink 01/16/11 @ 21:57

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