Tunnels, Spirals, Lattices, Cobwebs
Siri Black

Opening + Street Party
Thursday 7th November
6 - 9 pm

8.11 - 23.11.19
Open Tues - Sat 11 - 6pm

Siri Black presents new work made in response to her ongoing research into entoptic visual phenomena and the problem of other minds. Entoptic (‘coming from within’) refers to visual experiences derived from the eye or brain, as opposed to an external light source. There is no common shared stimulus, and so the experience remains uniquely private and untranslatable. Nonetheless, throughout history, there have been various accounts and records of these images, as well as attempts to search for shared characteristics and possible categories.

In ‘Tunnels, Spirals, Lattices, Cobwebs’, Black looks to these records to construct a visual language, in which image and image-carrier are of equal importance. The show features casts of wood engravings, drawing from Jan Evangelista Purkinje’s ‘Contributions to the Knowledge of Vision from the Subjective Point of View’ (1818). They sit like documents on shelving units, cyphers of a new language, endlessly imprinting. Part mocking, part hopeful of the possibility of such a thing as a universally shared vision, Black attempts to question the role language and representation might play in truth-building.

Siri Black lives and works in Glasgow and graduated from BA (Hons) Painting and Printmaking in 2019. She was recently selected for the Hospitalfield Graduate Residency (2019). Recent screenings and exhibitions include ‘Too little too late’ with Eleni Wittbrodt at Outlier, Glasgow (2019), ‘Creative Reactions’ in collaboration with PhD Engineering student Isha Maini, St. Enoch Centre, Glasgow (2019), ’Excerpts’, a group screening, CCA, Glasgow (2019), and ‘Roissy, just the two of us’, GY Festival, Glasgow (2018).

This is the third exhibition in a series of four shows showcasing the work of graduates from BA (Hons) Fine Art at the Glasgow School of Art this year.

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Text by Siri Black

Someone once compared the act of writing to a specific type of rain that never quite reaches the ground. A virga (derived from the latin for twig or branch) is an observable streak or shaft of precipitation that evaporates before meeting the surface of the earth. The lament is old, and well rehearsed: the written word never quite reaches the lived experience, and robs the latter of its purity.

In 1819, Jan Evangelista Purkyně (1) published a paper describing the visual effects sourced within the eye itself. A snapshot of the retina, reproducing itself. Amongst these are Phosphenes, those tiny shaking fading Rorschachs we see when rubbing our eyes, or standing up too quickly.

’When I close my eyes, they begin to shine […] it all ends with a dark rhombus with blunt corners, surrounded by a dull shine resembling a phosphorescent light. A total darkness follows. […] As soon as I release the pressure on the eyeball, the pattern breaks up in several places and the bright branches flow in curved lines and disappear like dying sparks of a burning paper’

Illustrations accompany the description. I can only imagine the bitterness with which Purkyně, after extensive probing and prodding his own eye socket, looked at the collection of neat shapes, lines and words scattered across the paper. No amount of literary embellishment really gets you there. The patterns invariably dissipate under the weight of language and remain irreducibly private.

Science advocate and staunch empiricist James IV, King of Scotland, undertook just one of the many recorded attempts throughout history to find the origins of, or the origins of the original, human language. In 1493, he ordered two new born babies to be sent to live on the isolated island of Inchkeith to be raised by a mute woman. The language, for surely there must be language, the children would eventually speak was to reveal the innate human language stripped of any external influences.

My first memorable experience of a Phosphene came about as a result of a conker fight to which I was an unwelcome spectator. The eyeball has a curious way of recoiling when in danger; tiny fireworks accompanied by a sound I now exclusively link to the sound an amp makes when the audio jack is forcibly removed.

The first moveable type system for printing texts originated in China more than four centuries before the process was mechanised by Gutenberg. Porcelain blocks carried each individual character and could be rearranged in various permutations on an iron plate.

Afterimages are another example. If photoreceptors in the eye are exposed to the same unmoving stimulus over time, they lose their sensitivity and the image remains visible after the initial exposure.

Machines, too, have this memory. The phosphor in the screen of a monitor eventually looses its luminance, so a non-moving image displayed for a prolonged period will burn itself into the screen, a permanent ghost image.

There is a distinct similarity between the drawings of Phosphenes and the recurring motifs and patterns found in prehistoric art. Evidently, the earliest humans ascribed enough relevance to these fleeting, tessellated patterns to begin the long and arduous journey into representation. ‘We lament the insufficiency of our songs, [but still] we sing’. (2)

(1) Purkyně, Jan Evangelista, ‘Beiträge zur Kenntniss des Sehens in subjectiver Hinsicht’, 1819.

(2)  Lerner, Ben, ‘Poetry Reading’, University of Chicago, (audio), 2012. 

Photo credit Sean Campbell