By Ruth Noyes.
The true outlines of opaque bodies are never seen with sharp precision.
Leonardo da Vinci
1 part 7 incorporates stop motion animation and live performance, bringing together mural installations, constructed models and objects, and live performers to investigate ideas of Space, Time, Scale and Perception. The piece takes as its point of departure a Renaissance image that purports to demonstrate the rules of linear mathematical perspective, to take up historically similar questions of experience and of self (Figure 1).
In 1 part 7 we see an artist, avatar for the camera and the beholder, interacting with models, perspectival instruments, images, and his surroundings, all in an attempt to record his environment with fixity and certainty (Figure 2).
But these interactions only provoke doubt and uncertainty about human capacity to accurately perceive our surroundings, and art’s capacity to accurately record what is already a distorted misperception. All of this points to a fascinating aspect of the perspective system, which seemingly frames and anchors 1 part 7 as a whole. This is how the apparent rationalization of sight offered by perspective contains, and always contained, within it the possibility of its own de-rationalization.
Like linear perspective, anamorphosis, seemingly distorted imagery that can be seen in natural form under certain conditions, such as when viewed at an angle or reflected in a curved lens, has existed since the Renaissance (Figures 3, 4). Such imagery is constructed according to so-called catoptric perspective, a mathematically-generated system that represents a reworking of the rules determining the apparatus of linear perspective, for which Renaissance art is more famous. Anamorphosis necessitates a dynamic viewing process, demanding that the beholder move themselves to effect a literal, bodily transformation in their position in relation to a certain viewpoint.
This process reveals the inherent instability and artificiality of the entire perspective system itself. Leonardo da Vinci’s skepticism of Renaissance perspective, and his invention of sfumato—a blurred or “smoky” pictorial effect—to represent the blurred boundaries between objects, similarly called into question the perspectival system, and with it the illusive rationality of either representation or perception (Figure 5). Both anamorphosis and sfumato were prototypes that technology has only now begun to match, and their prefiguration of contemporary digital technology’s ability to literalize these Renaissance formal techniques resonates in 1 part 7.
1 part 7 offers a simultaneous crashing together of linear perspective, anamorphosis, and sfumato, together with other visual modes and systems, implicitly comparing early Renaissance revisions to perspective—like Leonardo’s—to those realized through digital technology (Figure 6). This raises issues of the possibility of permeable boundaries among objects and between physical and virtual worlds, and radical revisions of notions of space and scale. The resultant possibilities, like those suggested by Leonardo, offer new conceptions of space and representation that challenge those who suggest the digital world will subvert the physical.
It thereby links up to a history of what Merleau-Ponty termed an epistemology engine, “a technology or a set of technologies that through use frequently become explicit models for describing how knowledge is produced.” 1 part 7 sets contemporary practice in a trans-temporal dialogue with the earliest creators of anamorphoses on a grand scale, who converted large spaces into giant projection apparati to facilitate the transfer of their images, inadvertently foreseeing the film medium (Figure 7). The resultant resonances rupture the seemingly linear trajectory of history.
As if paralleling the boomerang-like recovery of notions belonging to a seemingly distant past, anamorphic perspective itself creates a strange effect in which the image originates and ends at the same point. The principal or « vanishing » point occupies almost the same space as the viewing or « distance » point. The distance point functions not to produce the illusion of distance at all, but rather to draw the viewer into a tighter, more restricted view, folding together into a tripartite collapse subject, picture plane, and Subject-beholder, who finds themselves so close to the picture surface that the image itself almost disappears from sight.
The vanishing point in thereby can work as a potential locus of subversion, even resistance, something that also emerged contemporaneously to the institutionalization of perspective as a method, a technology, an artistic effect, and an epistemology in the Renaissance. By virtue of this disquieting subversion of conventional perspectival modes, 1 part 7 emerges as an analog to perspective theory, which confronted and incorporated from the beginning its own contradictions by opposing the body and the eye, while facing the limitations of both knowledge and representation (Figure 8.)
René Descartes’s philosophical doubt, signaling much of modern consciousness, would be impossible without events of visual deception, such as those signified by works of art like 1 part 7, which provide the grounds for the sensory deception and contradiction that provided the impetus for much of Descartes’s questioning. Radical doubt served as the necessary pretense of his investigation: our senses can deceive us and thus lead us into logical fallacies and errors. But when we dream, the thoughts we have may well be the same as those we have when we are awake, making it impossible to ascertain which thoughts are real and which are illusory (Figure 9).
Like Descartes, 1 part 7 would have the viewer « pretend that all things that had ever entered my mind were no more true than the illusions of my dreams. » 1 part 7 leaves us only with the certainty that in our state of self-imposed doubt, the one thing we cannot doubt is the that we exist. The very act and process of doubting guarantees us surety of our existence (1).
© Ruth Noyes – Turbulences Vidéo #85
1 – Lyle Massey, “Anamorphosis through Descartes or Perspective Gone Awry,” Renaissance Quarterly, Vol. 50, No. 4 (Winter, 1997): 1148-1189.