PENROSE PATTERN & FIGURE-GROUND

Installation, 2013

These pieces use moiré interference patterns to create illusions of depth and movement, playing with the physiology of the visual pathways and the mechanisms that build and test our perceptual map of the world.

As the viewer moves around the work, each simple structure—four panes of glass printed with parallel and angled lines in black and in white— becomes apparent. Seen from the side, the panels are fragile and insubstantial. Yet as the angle of view changes, they suddenly appear as solid screens over which rhythmic patterns appear to run in different directions and on different planes. While the arrangement of lines is exactly the same on the black and on the white panels, the effects when seen from the light and the dark sides are strikingly different. This can be seen with the naked eye, and yet the illusion persists, exposing the usually unconscious dialogue between the body and the brain.

The work builds upon a long-standing collaboration with the Bristol Eye Hospital and with psychologists in London, Dundee and Bristol, exploring the physical and cognitive cues involved in spatial perception and the implications of new insights arising from the next generation of neuroimaging techniques. The frequencies of the gratings are derived from the artist’s own brain activity, which was recorded while participating in research that aims to measure the subtle shifts in electrical frequency and amplitude that seem to arise a split second before the brain separates a figure from a background, or a face from a vase.

The profile used in the Figure-ground piece is the one used in the experiment, while the Penrose Pattern references the classic tiling system and Necker cube illusions. The angles are calculated from the artist’s research on moiré effects, and are inspired by the work of artists and scientists including Soto, Wilding, Spillman and Wade.

Artist's Statement

The connection—and frequent disconnection—between appearance and experience has been a central theme of my work for many years. Perception of space is of particular interest because it engages two different types of gaze at once: the considered look that gathers information for recognition and understanding, and the flickering stream of signals used to direct physical action, seeking out boundaries to gauge relationships with the viewer’s body. Float glass is a wonderful material to play with in this context—printed lines appear suspended in a space that is both present and absent, flat and deep, while the rhythmic patterns generated by multiple layers suggest the dynamic process that transforms a bewildering array of conflicting signals into a coherent illusion of space.