Current cognitive research suggests that our perception of the world is never seamless; inbuilt into our attentional processes are discontinuities. Attention is episodic, so although our visual system is capable of extreme focus, interruptions or gaps mark the fluctuations between temporal episodes of attention (1). These almost imperceptible blanks in attentional processing are exposed by the phenomena of attentional blink, miniscule time lags in visual processing and evidence of attentional capacity reaching a limit (2).
Visual attention is necessarily selective, as though we cut out a frame of focus from a wider visual field. Selection provides an edge and an exclusion; there is always the loss of what we are not paying attention to. The panning glance of a viewfinder, the bracketing of picture, the frame by frame properties of film, the enclosing structures of painting, all imply the perceived pause of selective attention but also the potential for its dispersal.
Our contemporary condition can be characterized by a crisis in attention, distractedness the by-product of the technological, cultural and social shifts that start with industrialisation and escalate in a digital multiplicity. The requirement to rapidly switch attention from one thing to another is part of ‘the cultural logic of capitalism’ (3). This switching might be a high functioning and productive solution to an information saturated context or it might be an instance of unproductive and unsettling inattention. Art is often associated with idealised forms of attention, but the attention provoked by Interval [ ] works in tandem with distraction ¶, the pull of salient stimuli flickering on the periphery of focused looking. As optical attention and cognitive attention do not always align, so the cross cuts and edits of this collaboration work with disjunctions. Attention is captured, segmented, displaced and recaptured from work to work to work and into the space, punctuated by blanks and gaps in between.
A specific quality of the gallery at Tintype is the framing of its exhibition space from the street. The large window, just off square, captures and pictorializes. This architectural circumstance establishes an event boundary for the visitor first viewing the space from outside, holding a visual capture of that framed interior as they move towards the doorway and into the gallery. Event boundaries mark ‘points of perceptual and conceptual changes in activity’ (4) like strategic cuts in a film. These boundary moments are part of perception’s segmentation of continuous experience, and seem to encode visual data more securely into memory. The cut in time and structured spacing implied by the term interval highlights this change of view and position. Attention is framed and distanced from street, and is dispersed and recaptured inside the gallery.
A formal engagement with framing and limit ties the practices of film and painting together art historically. These qualities can also be approached as evidence of a cognitive structuring of visual stimuli ‖. The inevitable displacements and exclusions that occur are intervals that access the processes of memory and imagination, and signal the blank spots that resist capture and withhold picturing.
published in Interval [ ] still : now to accompany the exhibition of the same name at Tintype London in March 2018.
(1) Attentional Episodes in Visual Perception, B. Wyble et al (2011) Journal of Experimental Psychology: General 140 (3)
(2) How humans search for targets through time: A review of data and theory from the attentional blink, Paul E. Dux, René Marois (2009) Attention, Perception, & Psychophysics 71: 1683
(3) Suspensions of Perception: Attention, Spectacle and Modern Culture, Jonathan Crary (2001) The MIT Press
¶ Interval [ ] End Notes, Matthew de Pulford (2018)
(4) Event boundaries in perception affect memory encoding and updating, Swallow, K. M., Zacks, J. M., & Abrams, R. A. (2009) Journal of Experimental Psychology: General 138 (2)
‖ Interval [ ] End Notes, Matthew de Pulford (2018)