Many thanks for your letters. It’s been very interesting to find out a little more about some of the things you’ve been thinking about recently.
One word crops up several times in the letters, I had to look it up to check what it means – stereoscopic. As I understand it, this refers to a kind of rudimentary 3D way of presenting an image, that relies on the pairing of two images, almost identical but representing slightly different perspectives, in the same way that our two eyes give slightly different perspectives on whatever it is that we’re looking at. It would appear that we can trick our eyes into seeing ‘through’ these pairs, to get an impression of depth. I quote Wikipedia: ‘eye focus and binocular convergence are habitually coordinated. One approach to the decoupling the two functions is to view the image pair extremely close up with completely relaxed eyes’. And then, presumably, our eyes would refocus, and the image pair would somehow merge and look as though they were solid?
In thinking about stereoscopic viewing, I’ve been wondering about how it might apply to other aspects of your practice. Firstly, the idea of the paired, but slightly different images – an original and a double, or a fake, even. You mention a few of these. Like your Father’s stuffed owl, a pile of lifeless feathers and cotton wool (or whatever it is that taxidermists use) posed in imitation of when it was capable of flying away; or your Mum’s plastic orchid, the only sort of plant she would put up with in the house. (By the way, did you know you share your name with an American bodybuilder? I’ve not been able to find out much about her, other than a few images online, of her in a bikini with straightened hair, flexing her enormous muscles). And then secondly, how it might apply to your relationship with John Dilwyn Llewelyn, the Victorian photographer and botanist who you’ve been researching during your residency. I wonder what it would mean for you to be stereoscoping with him? He as a ‘gentleman amateur’, that obsolete breed who contributed so much to the development of human knowledge, but who today would probably not be taken seriously; and you as a contemporary artist, perhaps in certain respects the modern equivalent? (Though not, as a rule, so wealthy!!). What would the ‘illusory whole’ glimpsed between the pair of you look like? (Of course, I’m not interpreting you as his fake!).
There is also the mutual interest in collecting that you share with JDL – him with his orchids, you with your selected instances of domestic recall. I’ve been thinking about how this, the collecting impulse, relates to stereoscopics too – the desire to gather together disparate items unified by a quality that perhaps only really exists in the mind of the collector, a desired characteristic, that creates another sort of illusory whole, here gone beyond a binary phenomenon to include multiple (infinite?) facets. Yours and his work might seem quite different, his scientifically rigorous and yours more vulnerable to the vagaries of memory, perhaps. But I would rather focus on the similarities in your ways of systematising perceptions to create an understanding of the world, or, at least, the impulse behind them.
Because one of my eyes doesn’t really focus, I am unable to see any sort of stereoscopic image. The last 3D film I tried to see was Werner Herzog’s Cave of Forgotten Dreams, and after trying with the goggles on, I felt so strange I had to take them off, and instead put up with the weird double-vision images on the screen. I am aware that similarly, the significances and connections around aspects of your practice that I have attempted to see, and that I have written about in this letter might be misperceptions (likewise my understanding of what stereoscopics is in the first place). But I hope they are not entirely unhelpful.
Hope this finds you very well anyway. See you soon, no doubt. Phil,x.
(Phil Owen is a musician and writer based in Bristol. He works at Arnolfini as Research Assistant, and is co-founder with Megan Wakefield, of the art and language salon Tertulia.)