Private View

Robin Hawes & Dr Tim Hodgson

Private View: The Nature of Visual Process

Robin Hawes’ recent art practice has revolved around the ways in which evolution and the human brain have shaped the nature of our internal experience; our understanding of the external world and the influence this has in determining a common notion of ‘reality’.

Vision, being the most dynamic and immediate of our senses, plays a large part in this process. This project aims to look at a particular element of the visual system, that of saccades – the staccato eye movements we each make whilst scanning and exploring the visual scene before us. The project will attempt to explore the role of saccades in the processes of neurological construction that ultimately culminate in the experience of an internal conscious image within the brain.

In collaboration with Dr. Tim Hodgson, senior lecturer at the School of Psychology, University of Exeter, the project will seek to combine knowledge and technology from the visual sciences with a series of photographic images produced as part of Robin’s art practice. This coming together of disciplines will enable an exploration of commonly held assumptions about the nature of our everyday visual experience.

Much of the discussion around the research undertaken by RANE has emphasised a holistic view of nature, encouraging us to see ourselves and our species as part of – rather than separate from – the ecology of the planet and any concept we may develop of ‘nature’ itself. Whilst previous RANE commissions have tackled these issues using various processes evident in the natural environment, none as yet have looked at the processes inherent in our own internal human physiology. The series of internal events that combine to make us conscious of our external environment must surely play no small part in building our relationship to it.

The project aims to highlight the internally constructive processes of visual perception. Whilst Robin’s previous research has attempted to highlight the evolutionary basis for the ways in which the brain constructs its internal hypothesis of what lies beyond its senses, this project will concentrate on processes undertaken by the eye in providing sensory data to the brain.

Each time someone contemplates a work of art, the work of art is re-created internally. In essence, this project will attempt to make visible this hitherto internal and unshared neurological event.

Following a period of preparatory research, a methodology was established which was then implemented in the final stages of the project. Six volunteers wearing an ‘eye-tracking’ headset, were recorded while contemplating a photographic artwork for ten seconds and the data tracking their point of focus then used to simulate the actual visual information accumulated and processed by the retina over those ten seconds. This process evidences the poor quality of visual information gathered by the retina outside its point of focus, and so revealing the disparity between the visual information gathered by our eyes and the conscious picture of reality formed in our minds.

The project’s final outcomes comprise six newly created versions of the artwork ‘Iris’, by Robin Hawes plus the original. In addition to these 7 artworks (40x40cm), a set of ‘real-time’ animations revealing the ten second creation process have also been produced in the form of flicker books and digital animations. A small publication recording the research project is now available from the papers and publications section of this website.