Palpating with the Look:
Reflections on Embodied Vision and the Touch of Light
My attic has one window. A square-shaped skylight in the slanted roof. It is at an angle of about 45 degrees, looking up to the sky above the north-eastern horizon. For a short time in the morning, a little longer during summer months, the sun shines in directly and casts a square of bright light onto the floor, gradually moving in the opposite direction to the sun. As the sun's passage continues around the side of the house, its light no longer enters directly. A dispersed luminosity is reflected in through the window's square of sky, which becomes first brighter then dimmer as the sun ascends and descends in the sky. When I work there in the evening, after the sun has set, I often look up and see the moon looking in at me from an angle to the right of the window, from the east. If it is full, or nearly full, if I turn the light off, the moon too casts its square of light, paler and cooler than the sun's, into my attic.
Soon after I moved into the apartment, I found some black-out material, part of an old roll-blind, black and opaque. I measured out a square a little larger than the window, and attached velcro tape to it. I stuck the opposite part of the tape to the wall surrounding the skylight. I could then darken the attic at will.
When I black out the attic I am no longer at the whim of time's passage. The sun and moon may come and go and the day slowly die away, but within this small space I can remain oblivious, create my own passages, my own rhythms, illuminate or eclipse what I choose.
Space and matter, in our ocular experience, are constantly modulated by light. Within our subjective vision, our perception of them is inseparable from the light which falls on or into them, and we see them anew with each new shadow cast or modification in brightness. In my research I pursue these modulations, seeking to approach the subtle yet inextricable relationship between light, matter and space. In some of the works of art and architecture which I have been most moved by, I have sensed a similar concern on the part of the artist or architect. My reflections here on the particular nature of light and our perception of it are prompted both by my experience of these works, and by the practical research and experimentation which is central to my own practice. The fact that we rely on light completely for our ability to see anything, and yet it is almost impossible to perceive light itself, make our relationship with light a unique one. As Vasseleu points out "Seeing light is a metaphor for seeing the invisible in the visible" (Vasseleu;1998; p3).
Throughout the history of Western philosophy many analogies have been drawn between light and knowledge, consciousness, and humans' innate capacity to recognise truth (as in Descartes’ concept of “Natural Light”). When I manipulate light in practice, exploring its relationship with matter and analysing the ways in which it presents us with an image, I acknowledge that I am in a conversation with many “voices”, weaving amongst their sometimes conflicting assertions. What emerges in my own practice is not intended to support or refute these theories, but to move amongst them and create new experiences of light. In this paper I will explore the influences that certain theoretical conceptions of light and vision have on my practice, and search for their reflections and echoes in some of the works which have inspired me in their use of light.
Merleau-Ponty challenged the Cartesian privileging of vision over all other senses, which was based on Descartes' belief that we have a purer perception through sight, which is less physical than other sensory perception in his understanding. For Descartes and his followers, vision was separate from and superior to the fallible sensory body, and thus able to give greater insight than the “inferior” senses such as touch. Since our bodies do not have to be in contact with the object perceived, we can have a superior knowledge of that object through a more distanced perspective. Thus the insight gained through vision approaches objective knowledge. Our experience of it is more mental than physical, and thus belongs to the realm of ideas, which for Descartes is the only world which can pertain to truth.
The nature of light is bound up inextricably with the nature of vision, with our power to create and apprehend images. In the last century, phenomenology has deconstructed this Cartesian idea of vision as something cerebral, ideal and immaterial. Reflecting on phenomenological assertions that vision cannot be separated from the body, it seems evident to me that they also throw up challenges to the way in which we understand light, and consider it as totally separate from matter. Advaita Vedanta, the Indian Philosophy of non-dualism, states that all dualities are provisional and illusory, and at their core are one. According to this system of thought, it is through our tendency to separate and categorise the world that we delude ourselves, as in essence everything is a universal whole. This philosophy recurs as a point of reference in my research, and it was this which sprang to mind when I came across an article detailing how new scientific procedures could create solid matter from light, something which had been recognised as theoretically possible since 1934, but could soon be physically manifest (Sample, Ian 2014). This scientific proof of light and matter as interchangeable forms of energy further negates the idea that vision, the perception of light, could be a purely cerebral and immaterial experience.
However, this dissolution of binary distinctions is not only a theoretical fascination but a lived experience for me. Certain works of art and architecture provoke an intensely physical experience of seeing, while simultaneously challenging concepts of light as ineffable and opposite to matter. The way in which we visually perceive these works cannot be separated from the physiological experience of them. They induce a holistic and embodied sensory experience, in which the operations of the mind cannot be separated from those of the body. I will describe my personal experiences of some of these works below, and explore relationships between my perception of light in these works, and the reflections which they inspire on the nature of perception itself in relation to philosophical theories on these subjects. I will pursue the resonances which these ideas have for my practice, in which I explore the nature of light and of vision through constant experimentation, and try to create works in which "seeing" cannot be limited to a cerebral function but is an embodied, visceral experience.
In discussing my personal experiences of light in four particular works of art and architecture, I will seek to address the enigmatic nature of light as the medium of visibility which is itself invisible. Light is only revealed by what it falls upon: to our eyes it is united with the object which it illuminates, whether that is a solid surface, a translucent sheet of material, or particles of dust in the air. Conversely that object is only visible due to the light, its effects of illumination and reflection making us aware of the object’s presence. I will examine the similarity between the characteristics of light and the nature of consciousness. As with light, consciousness is the medium of experience which cannot itself be experienced. To our perception it is always bound up and shaped by the objects which we perceive.
Anthony McCall You and I, Horizontal (2005) at Hayward Gallery, 30/01/2013 - 06/04/2013
As I entered the room at the Hayward Gallery the texture and density of the space around me seemed to change. The moving slivers of projected light cut across the hazy room, giving the impression of slowly modulating walls of light, delineating one space of darkness from another. Light was here experienced as matter. I instinctively ducked under a beam in order to enter the "empty" space of darkness beyond it. I observed other visitors speak to each other as if they were in separate rooms ("come in here, just come though that way"), while being separated only by the beams of light travelling across the room. To attempt to pass through them would feel as counter-intuitive as to pass through the gallery walls. The light seemed to occupy space as densely and impenetrably as if it were brick or plaster. There is no separation between light and matter.
In the space of McCall’s work, the illusory solidity of light provokes an experience unmediated by separations and definitions of light and matter, illumination and object illuminated. Light, as well as matter, can itself appear as solid, not needing a material surface upon which to reveal itself. The act of seeing is performed in all its physicality. Merleau-Ponty speaks of the visible as "something to which we could not be closer than by palpating it with our look" (Merleau-Ponty 1968, p131). The “vision” I was presented with by McCall’s work was not one that I could apprehend at a distance, but one which I was entirely enmeshed in. My embodiment in that space, and the modulations that my presence and movementcaused in the work, were inseparable from my vision of it.
The novelty of the visual experience of McCall’s installation provokes an interrogation of vision itself. It incites us to question, to move, to look again and to touch. To investigate with our body and senses the phenomena which we are experiencing. Continuing, Merleau-Ponty says that our sight is of "things we cannot dream of seeing 'all naked' because the gaze itself envelops them, clothes them with its own flesh" (ibid, p131). The seen is inseparable from the seer, and the vision and the visible turn back and forth upon each other.
McCall's "Solid Light" pieces were developed from his experiences of projected film, inspired by the quality of illumination that the artist observed when films were projected in rooms which became suffused by cigarette smoke during a screening. McCall now uses vapour to create this effect. In the spaces of light and darkness cast by the projected beams, a moving image is contained. But by making visible the light's trajectory and passage, McCall reveals that there is much more to the projection of light than a flat image which appears cast upon a flat surface. The work becomes an ephemeral sculpture, through which the audience can move.
Although an electronic screen may show the same image, in my own practice I perceive a great gulf between seeing a moving image on screen and seeing it projected. Being physically present in the same space through which the light of a projected film travels allows for a different relationship with the moving image, through the possibility that our presence in that space can alter and disrupt the image. When it is on a screen we may entertain the illusion that we are looking through a window to the space where the objects of that image actually are, that they may possess actual material existence in that other space which we peer into. With a projected image, there can be no question of this being the case. The image is only light, nothing more. It exists in the space that we exist in, as we may prove to ourselves by intervening in the light's passage, casting a shadow, creating a void in the image in the form of our own body. The image that we perceive exists latently in the beams of light themselves, but can only be revealed to us through the light's contact with matter. Although that light exists in the space that we exist in, it seems to belong to a different ontological category. The solid matter and the light reveal each other - two binaries forming a union. While the image may loose its solidity, the light gains a certain materiality. In the space of a projection, light seems to belong as much to touch as it does to vision. I experience the light through its contact with material. If I reach my hand into the path of the image, I feel no doubt that the light touches my hand, and my hand touches the light.
Descarte's privileging of vision over touch hinged around the fact that vision allows for distance between the perceiver and the object that s/he perceives, while touch requires proximity and contact. To Descartes the ability to sense without physical contact, to have perspective, meant that this sensing was less embodied and more cerebral, and therefore revealed greater truth than the other senses could. Merleau-Ponty challenged the idea of vision as a disembodied, cerebral perception. For him vision was a physiological process which unites the seer and the seen through mutual affect, leaving no possibility for the disembodied, objective perception found in the writings of Descartes. The "materialisation" of light that occurs in McCall's "Solid Light" installation also seems to directly counter the Cartesian theorisation of vision. The idea of vision as non-physical, as transcendent, is easier to sustain when light itself is ephemeral, when its passage and volume cannot be perceived. Through my efforts to show the material passage of light and its physical presence in space which our bodies encounter, I also seek to disrupt this conception of the visible.
The Pantheon, Rome, 126AD – present
I looked up the dome which enclosed me; a perfect hemisphere viewed from within. At its centre was a circular aperture, an oculus, allowing the outside to enter in (as it freely did, as a puddle of rainwater in the middle of the floor testified.) A circle of sky looked into the structure. On the dome's ceilingwere cotters, carved square indentations, becoming deeper with each square within another square (they appeared to be square but were not quite: they followed the widening of the dome, themselves widening at the bottom). The differentshades within them revealed how the light entered at an angle from the open circle at the dome's peak, casting light into their lower parts while the upper parts, at an angle oblique to the opening, were in shadow. At a certain place on the dome's concave interior appeared a circle of light. Within it, the different planes of the indentations showed in even starker contrast.
Although I could not see the sun, or even the ray of light that entered through the top of the dome, the angle between the opening and the cast circle of brightness revealed the light's passage without making it visible, and made clear the sun's position. Throughout the day, as long as the sun was high enough in the sky to shine in through the dome's opening, the cast patch of light would travel slowly along the dome's interior curve, its route the inversion of the sun's path across the dome of the sky.
The oculus which allows the light of the sun to enter makes the internal world of the Pantheon an inversion of the external world. The passage of the patch of light is inverse to the sun's passage in the sky outside. Just as the world is seen inverted in a camera obscura, the passage of the sun, the passage through which we perceive time, is inverted by entering this interior. The building's aperture, while allowing the external to enter into the interior, also emphasises the breach between these two worlds through this reversal of the light's passage, and by allowing the natural light to show in stark contrast to the dim interior. The structure, and the entry of light, allows for a clear delineation of outside and inside, and yet the outside is always entering in. Somehow the sense of internality is made more complete by the ability to glimpse the outside.
The form of the Pantheon invites various comparisons, but to me the most compelling similarities are with the camera obscura and with the eye itself. Both of these structures allow external light to enter through an aperture in order to create an representation of it on the inside. However in both cases the image that is projected within is not a copy of the outside but an inversion of it. Hockney argues that optical aids such as the camera obscura had a vital role in developing representational art, particularly in early Renaissance painting. He believes that although the use of these devices does not imply that the skill of the painter is any less, “to an artist six hundred years ago optical projections would have demonstrated a new vivid was of looking at ad representing the world.”(Hockney, 2006, p14) They were also instrumental in understanding how our own sight functions, since the camera obscura mirrors the structure of the eye. Old Master painters may have used optics to perceive and reproduce the subjects of their paintings by creating a fixed and flat projected image, which could be more directly translated into a pictorial plane than the actual three-dimensional objects themselves.
Although the Pantheon does not function in the same way as the eye or camera, in that it does not create a projected image, a similar visual “translation” of the external world takes place. The patch of light which we see within the dome is not identical to the position of the sun, and yet it allows us to perceive and understand that position without having to look at the sun directly.
The relationship between the internal and external is not a clear or constant one. It is possible to imagine the Pantheon's dome as a microcosm of the dome of the sky as it appears to the human eye. Conversely this enclosed, defined space can be visualised as an inversion of the exterior beyond it. In "The Poetics of Space" Gaston Bachelard reflects on the relationships of interior and exterior spaces. He states that "Inside and outside are not abandoned to their geometrical opposition. From what overflow of a ramified interior does the substance of being run, does the outside call? Isn't the exterior an old intimacy lost in the shadow of memory?… there exists a play of values, which makes everything in the category of simple determinations fall into second place." (Bachelard, 1994, p230) The stark contrast in light between the exterior and exterior, which can be visually perceived from within but not from without, make this space unique in its connection to its exterior. The sky, the light, is seen from the opening at the top of the dome, and yet it cannot enter and fill the space. The Pantheon remains half-lit, half obscured by the darkness within it which cannot be expelled by the light which passes through its aperture.
According to classical theories stemming from Plato, vision functions separately from other senses. With other modes of perception, all that is requisite is the sense itself and the thing which is sensible (i.e. for hearing, the ear and a sound, for smell, the nose and an odour). However, vision requires not only the eyes and the object seen, but also the sun in order to function. Natural light, the light of the outside world, as opposed to the artificial light of the interior, takes on a particular significance in Plato's parable of the cave. Hans Blumenberg describes the move into natural light as "the release from chains…which is meant to create an awareness, in retrospect, of the Cave world as a sphere where `being and truth were lacking." (Blumenberg in (ed) Levin, 1993, p37)
Descartes extended Classical ideas which associate light with knowledge, truth, and the ability to perceive the truth. For him, light is the condition which allows us to form knowledge beyond doubt. For Descartes, "Natural Light" is inseparable from the cognitive faculties, but more specifically represents the innate faculty to recognise absolute truths. "An important variety of knowledge can thus be obtained directly, simply by recognising that certain things are true... Descartes uses the term "natural light." The natural light, then, is a faculty of the pure understanding which cannot be called into doubt, because it is the very basis upon which doubt must be justified, if it is to be justified at all." (Morris, John; p175) Here light is a faculty or condition, rather than knowledge or a known thing itself, just as in our experience light is the condition which allows our vision to function, but not something which can itself be seen or known.
Descartes' natural light is superior to all other cognitive power, and is divinely bestowed. He asserts that "I would not be able to cast doubt upon anything that the natural light makes me see to be true, as it has just made me see that, from the fact that I doubted, I was able to conclude that I was. And I do not have in me any other faculty, or power, for distinguishing the true from the false, which could teach me that what the light shows me to be true is not true, and which I could trust more than it." (Descartes cited in Morris, John; p176)
In both Plato and Descartes, an opposition is set up between truth and delusion, with natural light providing the ability to perceive truth and dispel illusion. However even this theoretical conception of light must have grown up from the basic premise that the way we perceive reality is totally conditioned by the nature of the light by which we perceive it. In the Pantheon my awareness of the particular quality of light in that space was heightened, its disparity from the light outside it, and how my perception and experience were that light, could not be separated from it, and would have been totally other in the bright natural light of the exterior.
Grafton Architects, Sensing Spaces Installation at Royal Academy 25/01/2014 - 06/04/2014
A large room of the Royal Academy was taken over by the installation. It was within a single room, four walls, and yet seemed to contain several spaces. At some points the ceiling came down lower, while at others it was elevated. In some areas light entered from the windows above and reached the floor, while in others the space remained in shadow. Patches of varying light and shade were visible on the gallery floor, corresponding to the different levels of ceiling and the position of the apertures which allowed the light to pass.
I circled the space, or moved between the spaces, since as I crossed from one shade to another, from darker to lighter or brighter to dimmer, I had a clear sensation of crossing a boundary. I allowed my instinct to carry me to a place where I could pause. I sat in a dim area of high ceiling, which seemed to be protected by the brighter, lower space in front of it. In the relative darkness I could watch, knowing I was less visible to the people who moved in the light than they were to me. I observed people changing with the varying light and shade cast on them as they moved through the space. They were transformed as they were illuminated or darkened by the modulations of light and shade.
Experiencing of the installation at the Royal Academy emphasised to me the inseparability of my perception of light and space. In the introduction to "Textures of Light", Vasseleu discusses the "displacement of light, which in the sensible realm is ambiguously differentiated from material obstacles" (Vasseleu, p8). This resonates with my experience of this architectural installation, as I had the clear impression of moving across separate spaces, and yet encountered no solid boundary. Yet again I felt overwhelmingly that although this impression was created by visual sense data (by the disparity which my eyes perceived between the brightly lit and shadowy areas), it was not an experience limited to the visual. My whole body seemed to know when it crossed the intangible border. This was far removed from the Cartesian conception of vision, in which the viewer is able to transcend her/his embodied subjectivity through the perspective which sight and distance gives to the object viewed. My visual experience of the space would not have been possible had I not been physically immersed in it.
Throughout his writings, Descartes is preoccupied with the danger of illusion, caused by the "Unreliability of the senses." (Judovitz in ed.Levin; 1993; p65). In the dualistic separation that Descartes envisions between the body as material and the mind as non-material, visions are directly connected to the pineal gland, which Descartes associates with the soul. True vision goes directly to the mind, to knowledge, to the nonmaterial. However this conception of vision is challenged by Bergson, for whom vision is an embodied, organic system of reflexes which allows us to respond to and act upon the world around us. While the visions are relayed to the mind, enabling us to consider and choose the appropriate action, vision cannot be divorced from this process which is essentially embodied and insists that the viewer situate herself amongst the things seen. For Bergson, "cerebral vibrations are contained in the material world… these images, consequently, are only a part of the representation." (Bergson; 1991; p23)
The embodied experience of being in this space, and the observation of how my perception and sense of space was conditioned by the degree of brightness in the area where I placed myself, was not something I could have had with distance and perspective from what I viewed. It was through being within it, and specifically through moving in it, that my knowledge of this space and how it affected me was formed. Bergson states that "Images themselves cannot create images; but they indicate at each moment, like a compass that is being moved about, the position of a certain given image, my body, in relation to the surrounding images." (Bergson; 1991; p23) We cannot have a visual experience that is not embodied, that does not account for where we place our own bodies in relation to what we view. The architects' manipulation of lighting in this space allowed the visitor to experience vision as an embodied, material process, and to move through light almost as if it were tangible.
Doug Wheeler "D-N SF 12 PG VI", 2012 at Palazzo Grassi 13/04/204 - 06/01/2015
I did not know if I was seeing light or space. Looking in from the outside, I could see only a bright white expanse, open on two sides to the Venetian palazzo which housed it. It was due to this location, and to the length of its open sides, that I knew that logically it must have certain spatial limitations, be contained within the volume of the building's dimensions. But forgetting this and looking in I saw only an expanse without limits. However the people who entered and moved around in the space moved only in a certain area, became a little more distant, a little smaller in my vision, then seemed to skirt a boundary invisible to me before becoming larger again, becoming closer, and stepping out of the infinite and back into the defined and confined space within which this apparent infinity was contained.
As I entered the space myself I felt disorientated and had to concentrate to keep my balance. Although the ground was level it was hard to judge how far it continued. No wall presented itself to my vision, signalling an edge or limit. And so I continued further into the space, my movement an investigation, a challenge. And as I did I sensed a change: the light in front of my eyes had a different quality, was more opaque. And then the ground began to rise, to curl upward. I stepped forward, and then observed that the ground continued to rise until it met, or rather became the wall. And as I came as close as I could to that point, walking onto that slope of floor-wall, my shadow rose up to meet me. The light, dispersed evenly throughout the area so as not to allow the viewer to distinguish between the different surfaces and facets of the space, was finally forced to cast my shadow, the shape of which revealed in clarity the curve of the boundary in front of me. The illusion was broken.
The experience of not being able to orientate oneself within a space, of not being able to perceive its dimensions and boundaries, is one which usually takes place in darkness, but here occurred in light. The radical difference in the two experiences is that in the undifferentiated light of Wheeler's installation, one could see one's own body, and those of others, or any other object within the space, but one could not see the space itself. Or was it that one could see the space, in a way which is normally impossible, but not its boundaries? Doug Wheeler said of this piece that "There's an overwhelming sense of space around you. But you see what's right there. And that's what it's all about. It's not just about creating some illusionary sense of infinity; it's being able to see that we are surrounded by a volume of light" (ed. Bourgeois, p 212). In his introduction to early philosophical conceptions of light, Blumenberg speaks of "an indefinite, omnipresent brightness containing all: the 'letting-appear' that does not itself appear, the inaccessible accessibility of things." (Blumenberg in (ed) Levin, 1993, p31).
Although Wheeler claims that we are "able to see that we are surrounded by a volume of light", to see the light which surrounds us is impossible. The impression of seeing the light itself, without a material surface upon which it revealed itself, was an illusion created by the fact that the light fell in undifferentiated brightness on all of the surfaces in that space, without casting shadows or showing boundaries. Here I return to Vasseleu’s exploration of light as the medium of visibility which is itself invisible: "Seeing light is a metaphor for seeing the invisible in the visible" (Vasseleu;1998; p3). The idea of seeing light, the possibility that this could occur, is powerful because of the associations and analogies which can be drawn between light and knowledge or consciousness. Just as with light, we do not experience consciousness without an object. We can have no perception of it without it being shaped by the world which is perceived. Both light and consciousness are what makes it possible for us to perceive, without themselves being perceptible without the object which they reveal.
This parallel seeing of light itself, consciousness of consciousness itself, perception of perception itself, is also paralleled in Merleau-Ponty's touching of touch. "a veritable touching of the touch, when my right hand touches my left hand while it is palpating the things, where the "touching subject" passes over to the rank of the touched" (Merleau-Ponty; 1968; p133-4). This image explores our potential capacity to simultaneously be conscious of both our subjectivity and objectivity in the world. However, this perception of perceiving is something we reach towards but which remains just beyond our grasp, as Merleau-Ponty elsewhere asserts "never does the perception grasp the body in the act of perceiving" (ibid; p9), and that "My left hand is always on the verge of touching my right hand touching the things, but I never reach coincidence; the coincidence eclipses at the moment of realisation". (ibid; p147).
At the last moment the touching hand which is touched becomes an object of touch itself, rather than subject. Otherwise the hand which touches it is only able to grasp its surface, and not its actual touching or sentience. In the same way, just as I began to believe that I could perceive the light itself without any illuminated object in the space of Wheeler's installation, this impression slipped out from beneath me just before it could be complete, as soon as I perceived the walls and limits of the space off which the light was reflecting.
The works of Wheeler and McCall which I have discussed both present us with “illusions”, with the impression that we are seeing light. Yet they also, as Wheeler points out, reveal a truth which is not evident to our normal vision. In Wheeler’s words, his installation makes us “able to see that we are surrounded by a volume of light" (ed. Bourgeois, p 212). However, the visitor’s physical presence within the space of these works allows her/him to investigate the vision with which s/he is presented. The ability to respond to the vision, to move and investigate, empowers the visitor to understand the process through which the illusion is created, and to reflect on the workings of their own perception.
For Plato in the parable of the cave, the illusions of light and shadows projected on the cave walls could only lead to ignorance and delusion for the cave dwellers. These were projections of a false reality, which the inhabitants of the cave mistakenly took to be true, and had no way to challenge or disprove. It was only in the natural light, in the bright light of the sun, that the cave dweller could perceive the truth and recognise his previous delusion. However, in my view, the cave dwellers’ faith in the illusions which they saw was entirely dependent on their vision being fixed to one point and focused in a particular, fixed direction. Had they turned away from the wall on which the shadows were projected, or intervened with their bodies into the passage of light, themselves casting a shadow onto the cave wall, they would have gained an insight into how the visions which they saw were created. Therefore the parable of the cave depends upon vision operating as Descartes theorized it - from a fixed, objective and disembodied point.
Andrea Nye points out that “Although there might be “biological” advantage in the visual ability to survey a field of objects from a removed, invulnerable position, at the same time vision which is detached from the body and the other senses can be the least realistic sense. Separated from the object seen, the seer can only confirm what he sees. Touch, on the other hand, is “true contact” with reality, a contact which is both contact with another and contact with the self.” (Nye in (ed) Levin, 1993, p37) It is embodied vision, and the capacity to physiologically respond to sight through movement that makes it possible to understand the vision, or illusion, with which we are presented. Through actively palpating with the gaze and the touch, we respond to and interact with the visual world around us. It is only from a static point of view that illusion is able to delude us. In the immersive visual environments created by McCall and Wheeler, what may be described as illusion can also provide insights into the nature of light and of vision through an embodied visual experience.
In manipulating light, the creators of the works I have discussed also affect the medium by which we perceive reality. I spend many hours in my darkened attic almost compulsively observing the effects of light - sometimes projecting images, still or moving, sometimes just manipulating light and casting shadows. Without having a defined problem to solve, or question to answer, through my experiments I am slowly expanding my experiential knowledge of how matter and light respond to one another. I am only marginally interested in empirical data, or what science dictates on the subject. My investigation is a phenomenological one, in which embodied experience is central. It is in this probing of light and my perception of it that I situate the most significant moments of my creative practice. It is here that my work functions as investigation, research or exploration.
By shutting out the light which is natural, in which absolute truths are evident and unquestionable, I open myself to a world where the boundaries are more ambiguous, where light, matter and space can meld together or split apart. I do not have any particular wish to define and pin down, the symbolic significance or philosophic parallels to which my investigations pertain. Many are possible, and arise at different moments, often contradicting the one previously held. Rather than making a case for any one, and trying to argue for a total theoretical coherence and cohesiveness in my practice, I observe these ideas as hypotheses as they arise through the physical manifestations of my investigations.
Echoed in my research and in my experience of each work described is a provocation to question both light and vision, to investigate further. None of these works present an image to be quietly contemplated in stillness. The physical nature of perception as an embodied process is emphasised in each. To fully experience them visually one has to situate oneself within them, move throughout them, experience the tangible and intangible boundaries of the spaces created. Both Wheeler's and McCall's pieces give us the impression that we are seeing light itself. In response to this unexpected sight, we turn our vision back on vision itself, our perception back upon perception itself, examining and searching it. Just as Merleau-Ponty seeks to palpate touch, we are drawn towards an experience where consciousness reflects itself, where the duality of subject and object become unified, although we find this experience to be always just beyond our grasp. It is this moment which I pursue in my own research and practice, despite knowing that it will always elude me at the last moment.
• Adilon, Blaise (2006); “You and I Horizontal” available at: http://www.modernamuseet.se/en/Stockholm/Exhibitions/2009/Moderna-Museet-Now-Anthony-McCall/
• Bachelard, Gaston; 1994; The Poetics of Space; Boston; Beacon Press
• Barthes, Roland; 2000; Camera Lucida; London; Vintage Books
• Bergson, Henri; 1991; Matter and Memory; New York; Zone Books
• Bourgeois, Caroline; 2014; The Illusion of Light exhibition held at Palazzo Grassi, Venice 2014-2015 [Exhibition Catalogue]
• Cacace, Giuseppe (2014); available at: http://www.gettyimages.co.uk/detail/news-photo/visitors-walk-on-a-creation-by-doug-wheeler-called-d-n-sf-news-photo/484330241
• Coleman, Andy (2014); available at: http://www.architectsjournal.co.uk/culture/grafton-every-dimension-every-niche-every-surface-in-architecture-makes-a-difference/8658609.article
• Grafton Architects (2014) [Installation] Royal Academy, London, March 2014
• Hockney, David; 2006; Secret Knowledge: Rediscovering the lost techniques of the Old Masters; London; Thames & Hudson
• Lauson, Cliff; 2013; Light Show exhibition held at Hayward Gallery, London 2013 [Exhibition Catalogue]
• Lefebvre, Henri; 1991; The Production of Space; London, Blackwell Publishing
• Levin, David Michael ed.;1993; Modernity and the Hegemony of Vision; London; University of California Press
• Lyotard, Jean-Francois; 2004; Libidinal Economy; London & New York; Continuum
• McCall, Anthony (2005) You and I, Horizontal [installation]; Hayward Gallery, London, February 2013
• Merleau-Ponty, Maurice; 1968; The Visible and the Invisible; Evanston; Northwestern University Press
• Morris, John; 1973; "Descates' Natural Light"; Journal of the History of Philosophy, vol 11, no 2; p 169-187
• Sample, Ian (2014) 'Matter will be created from light within a year, scientists claim' The Guardian; Sunday 18 May
• Vasseleu, Cathryn; 1998; Textures of Light: Vision and Touch in Irigaray, Levinas and Merleau-Ponty: London and New York; Routledge
• Wheeler, Doug; (2012) D-N SF 12 PG VI [installation] Palazzo Grassi, Venice, November 2014