Tag Archives: lens

At Arms Length: conceptual framework for a print folio.

28 Jul

at the wheel
At arms length; since the industrial revolution that is how Western society has interacted with the natural world. There has been a gradual and seemingly inexorable process of distancing ourselves, removing our selves and more definitively of “seeing” ourselves as separate from the natural world rather than as a part of it. Industrialisation marks a turning point in our understanding of our place in the world, as being distinct from it, not part of it.

Industrialised societies have used a variety of lenses to get closer to, yet further from, the natural world. Think of microscopes, telescopes, cameras, etc. they all seem to bring the viewed object closer, yet when viewed out of context the object, in a sense, becomes more distant from us.  Viewed via a lens our experience becomes disembodied. We privilege one sense over all others and we de-contextualise the looking we do by filtering it with a machine. For instance, when I look with my naked eye at a little patch of yellow lichen on a stone wall and I know what it is and my relationship to it. When I look at the same yellow lichen through the eyepiece of a microscope I am confronted with a mass of yellow disks isolated from any context.

lichen and tiny stone

Without prior knowledge of this object I cannot understand it or my relationship to it. The same thing happens with a telescope when I perceive a star through its lens; I loose the constellations that form its family and I cannot follow its path across the sky accompanied by the stories that would explain its dance through the seasons. How many times have you returned from holidays with the sneaking suspicion that in your endless quest for the perfectly captured moment you have failed to fully experience where you were? The entire trip viewed down the lens of a camera, the de-contextualised eye privileged above your other senses and certainly above a holistic sense of an embodied experience.

ash seed

The ubiquitous presence of cameras in our lives means that many people spend much of their time viewing the world via their smart-phone taking pictures, editing them and uploading them to another screen in a de-contextualised virtual space. When we use cameras mounted on remotely controlled drones we can so separate ourselves from the actual viewing experience as to remove ourselves from physical danger; perhaps this is a good thing? Or does it merely make it easier for us to distance ourselves from responsibility for our actions? In his novel Homo Faber, Swiss writer Max Frisch describes technology as “the knack of so arranging the world that we need not experience it.”

birch bark

Yet certainly there are benefits to be had from this technology, indeed I owe my life to the superior surgical skills of neuroscientists guided by tiny cameras manipulated through my blood vessels. However, we should perhaps be wary of privileging a disembodied viewing experience because of the lack of regard it seems to foster in us for our relationships with the world around us.

Why does this matter?

Context, it seems, is important. It’s how we make sense of our world and our place in it. It gives us spatial, social, cultural (and any number of other kinds of) meaning. Context also brings us an awareness of consequences. When one’s interactions with the world are mediated by a machine, a de-contextualising lens, we are divorced from an experience informed by contextualising meaning. Without this sense of place or relationship one cannot have an awareness of consequences. Perhaps it is because of the saturation of such disembodied viewing experiences in our culture that we so often find ourselves looking without seeing, viewing our world without an awareness of our relationship to it and with scant regard for the consequences.

checking proofs


At Arms Length: A Residency Project at Atelierhaus Beisinghoff

28 Jul

At Arms Length:

A Residency Project at Atelierhaus Beisinghoff


“Let’s build a bigger telescope so we can see things more up close, further away from where we really are,” sings musician Michael Franti in his song Water Pistol Man. These lyrics returned to me when I began thinking about the work I might make during my current residency at Atelierhaus Beisinghoff in Rhoden Germany. As a sculptor my work has often been concerned with human constructions of space and place and how we make meaning from our relationship to the world around us. Lately I’ve come to ponder the way that industrialised cultures increasingly seem to experience the world via virtual mediums. I wanted to explore what this might mean for the way we view the world and our place in it. To this end, I decided to buy a pocket field microscope to take to my residency and find out what happens when one views common objects through a lens such as a camera, telescope or in this case a microscope. I have discovered that privileging the visual sensory experience over other senses and viewing objects in isolation removes them from their context, making it difficult to understand how they relate to us and we to them. Through the lens of the microscope a flower or feather may look beautiful but it will certainly appear alien because it no longer has any context. From my field studies I made a series of drawings that later became etching plates and have now further developed into a series of colour prints called At Arms Length.Image

These works will be exhibited, at Atelierhaus Beisinghoff upon completion of my residency and also in Australia later in the year. For further information about my work please visit my website www.racheljoyartist.com