This note about an art project was written by Carolien Stikker and Thomas Elshuis and was first published in the 2013 Mill Hill Essays.
What you see is not really there; it is what your brain believes is there…Seeing is an active, constructive process. Your brain makes the best interpretation it can according to its previous experience and the limited and ambiguous information provided by our eyes.
Francis H.C. Crick, in The Astonishing Hypothesis
Carolien Stikker and Thomas Elshuis are interested in how things work in visual language and by means of visual language and specifically in how we understand an image when we are looking at it. Does one see only what is represented or do we make our private interpretations? Can we see, without interpreting? And how does it work with suggestions: how are our interpretations influenced by cues? Their work is a way of grappling with these questions.
Carolien Stikker’s latest body of work: ‘Random Compilations’ came about while cleaning up her computer. She found a lot of discarded image files in the trash. Whilst nearly deleting them she became curious as to what these pictures would look like if seen at once together. Would it give an impression of rejection? No, it did not, and an investigation into the concept of perception resulted. This visual experiment has much in common with the observation made in the above quote by Francis Crick. When looking at these compilations one cannot see a whole but small details, impressions, and glimpses of imagery. Since none of the images is completely visible, different interpretations are made depending on who is looking, their personal experience and in what context.
Thomas Elshuis composes all of his work from some 20.000 transparencies, inherited in 1998. Light forms the basis of a lot of his work. In his recent photographic work, he focuses on the transparency of the medium. The images emerge out of the light so to speak, much like memories tend to do. They too appear and disappear, leaving behind a diffused image. Elshuis remodels the information from the original photograph and gives it a new meaning.
Stikker and Elshuis decided to combine their interest in archival material and modes of working. Looking for large amounts of used and archived visual images a collaboration was initiated with NIMR.
The result is an art project based on visual research material from some of NIMR’s scientists (Tim Mohun- Developmental Biology, Lesley Calder- Physical Biochemistry, Phil Walker- Molecular Structure) in combination with photographs of the building and its grounds at Mill Hill, London. By merging these different aspects of this institution, they aspire to create a visual (poetic) essence of NIMR. It is hoped that the result of this project can in the future embody the heritage and culture of NIMR, as it moves to become part of the Francis Crick Institute in 2015.