‘BLURRING & FOCUSING’ – Liz Haines

RESPONSE #4  Liz Haines

With our most recent 100 Hours session in mind, this week I have  stepped back a little from trying to think of the object as ‘autonomous… with unambiguous boundaries’. Thus far, careful attention to its autonomous qualities had not made it very vocal, and I’m fortunate that my object is unusual in having so much of its history documented, (if not much remembered). The record of it in the annals of the Royal Geographic Society have brought me a much better understanding of its material world.

The slides were deliberately brought into being to play an experimental role between and amongst a variety of other intriguing objects and situations. Its material world runs an extraordinary physical scale; from the intimacy of folded paper in a jacket pocket, to bronze and whitewash, to the meeting rooms of the RGS and finally out onto the slopes of the world’s mountainous regions, from the Alps to Capetown. Through following this textual trail, I got to see the object in a completely new way, not just metaphorically, but literally because the slides regained their association with another object in the Galton collection, the stereoscopic viewing glasses.

Stereoscopic viewing is a very peculiar visual experience, and I’m not sure that it is one I have an innate skill in. It requires you to relax and refocus the eye muscles; the image has to come to you, you can’t come to it. I’d assumed until now, that the slides would require a projector or some large piece of apparatus to reveal their double quality. So I hadn’t really expected the magic to happen when holding dainty Windsor and Newton viewing glasses slightly haphazardly over them as they sat on the lightbox. But it did. I don’t yet understand the physics of the glasses (the lenses must be prisms of some sort) but the ‘models of mountainous country’ sprang into relief.

Initially I had disliked the reading that Chris offered us. It seemed to exemplify so much of what I resent when human experience is framed by machines: a focus on control (as apparently the full spectrum of the experience of power) and a focus on decision-making (as apparently the full spectrum of the experience of thought). But then this opened up for me in our discussion, I really enjoyed the objects that he added to our 100 Hours repertoire, from the praying monk to the life-cast amphibians. They brought out qualities from the reading that I find much more exciting and productive. The slides and videos were a graphic reminder of the way that machines connect to other animistic corners of the human imaginative universes, with mischievous, terrifying or ecstatic ceding and transferral of consciousness.

And when I was back in the storeroom with my object, all this served to draw my attention to one aspect of the stereoscopic experience in particular. When I was holding the glasses over the slides my eyes produced an image that manifested very vividly as a product of multiple material entities. My body formed a bridge between these those two separate objects, which split and re-joined my stereovision into a floating third. I’ll be keeping that memory very much to the fore.

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