This project explored the area of ambiguity in perception, which is inherent in the artworks of Madeleine Boyd and fundamental to the research of neuroscientists Mark Lythgoe and Beau Lotto. The practice-based research nature of this project provided a framework for both artistic and scientific partners to develop their own work as well as producing work together. A series of scientifically driven events based around Boyd’s sculptural environments allowed the collaborators to generate a genuinely interdisciplinary methodology
Our objectives were:
• To test the boundaries between form and formlessness, abstractness and representation, and the limits of depth perception in order to discover the critical point of these conditions.
• To present the research to the public as a highly original body of work as both a powerful aesthetic experience and an opportunity for the audience to experience the ambiguity in their own perception, and thus experience the use of such a human trait. Additionally to provide access to a variety of media and literature, such as internet forums, videos and catalogue giving information surrounding the issues in perception and art that the piece stimulates.
• To forge mutually inclusive collaborative relationships between scientists, artists and art historians and to present the results of the project to other creative practitioners, thereby sharing knowledge and stimulating further debate.
Particular achievements and successes were:
We presented original art installations to the public in London and Norwich which were enjoyed as captivating aesthetic experiences, provoked interest in the subject matter and allowed the public to feel a heightened sense of their own perception, all of which are attested to in feedback we collected. (Included in this evaluation as supporting documents).
The audience figures show that thousands of people viewed the exhibitions and we had excellent feedback from both shows. (Almost 6000 people attended the exhibition in Norwich over the two week period). The feedback also demonstrates that we achieved our objective of creating a perceptually uncertain space. It also appeared to stimulate the imagination of the audience as people reported their emotions or what images and thoughts it inspired. Many people spent a long time looking at the work (10-30mins) or returned for a second experience or brought other people back with them. At the first show in London, feedback showed that it was the favourite work by far of a large group exhibition consisting of work by professional artists.
The Director of the Norwich Arts Centre wrote that the work is, “a genuine crossroads between science and art. It is simultaneously beautiful and confusing…we try to make sense of it and in doing so question the nature of our own minds..It’s a brilliant and innovative work of art.”
The project was highly organised which resulted in the work being produced and installed to very high standard on budget and on time. The Forum venue manager described our achievement of gaining high audience figures as, ” an excellent testimony to the quality of work, promotion and excellent engagement ..”
The exhibitions have been presented to numerous other creative practitioners and scientists and generated a great deal of interest and further discussion. In particular, it has been shown to various curators who expressed an interest in exhibiting the work elsewhere. We are exhibiting the work at The Science Museum in November 2010, and we now have confirmed exhibitions as part of the feature exhibition at Kinetica Art Fair 2011, and Salthouse 2011. In addition, an eminent neuroart historian would like to write an article about the work. (Prof John Onians from UEA).
We have established mutually inclusive relationships between scientists and artists, in particular, amongst the co-applicants themselves who have worked closely together on all the ideas. Professional relationships established with curators at UCL proved very productive in terms of providing free use of spaces for experimental exhibitions.
Other outcomes from the work:
We also provided a website, were included in a catalogue and produced information boards to encourage further individual research (Also included in supporting material). In addition, we took part in an evening of talks which was received extremely well.
I was invited to lead an art/ science workshop at a secondary school in SE London in July 2010. As part of the workshop, I gave a talk to the students (age 14) about the Point of Perception project and the work of the neuroscientists. We then created a large group art project using scientific ideas.
The exhibiting phase is still on-going : installing the work at The Science Museum, Kinetica and Salthouse will extend our reach dramatically.
How we evaluated Objective 1:
As part of objective 1 we conducted verbal and questionnaire informed research on depth perception and the boundary of form and formlessness in two ways: i) initially using the collaborators as observers; ii) invited participants as test subjects in our experimental arena at Gordon Square in June 2009 to fine tune the work and iii) gathered information through anecdotal responses collected as recordings and used this to create our first exhibition, at The Slade Research Centre, in September 2009. Furthermore our second exhibition also created an extensive archive of responses to the work (both from personal encounters and the collection of almost 500 questionnaires from an audience total of 6000) and included information about physical effects and how much people were able to perceive.
Ideally we would have included the audience even more in the experimental process, but we were aware we had to balance this with creating a genuine art experience which was subtly provoking and non-didactic. Feedback received showed that we achieved the goal of creating an exciting, unsettling and arresting art experience which the public enjoyed immensely, and engendered much thought about their own perception. I think what has been sacrificed so far to attain this was a regimented and controlled experiment with real scientific findings rather than anecdotal reports. We are presently attempting to find ways to unite these aims more successfully as this remains an objective.
There were some organisational problems managing an original team of five. I, as project leader, found it impracticable to involve so many people closely enough at every step in the research and development phase as it resulted in slow decisions. After a few months, two members elected to have a more advisory role rather than direct input into the creative process. This was a good solution as it created a more responsive cohesive team for the development phase, whereas the initial phase benefitted from the invaluable plentiful ideas of the two co-applicants.
The marketing for The Slade exhibition was not as extensive as it should have been because it was a group show with a curator who took responsibility for publicity and gave assurances that the maximum was being done. We felt more could have been done but by the time this became apparent the show was already installed and it’s two week run left us only a little time for our own marketing. As a result, for the second exhibition I took more personal control of marketing, and tracked publicity done by the festival organisers. This led to much more extensive and productive publicity, including featuring on New Scientist TV, listings, posters, several articles both online and in print.
I would emphasise the importance of both delegation and communication when managing team projects.
Delegation is crucial, especially around the time of an exhibition when so many things have to be done at the same time. I found that because my work is large scale and a complex build and installation, that there simply wasn’t time to project manage the installation and do effective publicity alone. For the Norwich exhibition, the publicity was largely carried out by the festival organisers which took the pressure off me. For future projects, I would allocate money to hire someone, just for 2-3 days to assist with publicity. This is especially important if the project isn’t tied in to a bigger event/ festival so there is nothing to build on, meaning extra work is required to
bring the exhibition to the public consciousness.
Delegation is also important in terms of knowing your limits and expertise. I had allocated money for professional builders to construct the work. This was a very good decision because this is not an area I am skilled in, but the professional look of the installation was paramount to its effectiveness.
In addition, I found communication with my co-applicants extremely important. Keeping everybody up-dated and involving them all in the decisions meant that people feel part of a cohesive team, and are happy to give up time and be committed because they feel
valued and important within the project.
The Future of the Project:
We definitely plan to develop this work further. We are extremely pleased with the success we have gained from this project and would like to build on the success by creating a new piece of art work that explores perception but shifting the focus slightly. So many interesting ideas and questions arose from the feedback and the research phase. We were simply not able with the time and money we had, to explore all the areas we wanted to, it was important rather to chose one idea and do it well. In particular, we have become more interested in the connection between perception of form, beauty and the feeling of the sublime. We would also like to develop the immersive and performative nature of the work.