Monday, January 7, 2008

The one that "represents" and the one that "interprets"

I think there is always a distance, and this distance is - the difference between how we perceive the world and the way our instrumens do- the fact that we embed a cultural frame on top of our strict perception, in other words there is no perception that is not frame by an interpretation.
I have been working on Art in Extreme Environments for a while now, and recently focusing on art at the Poles with a huge emphasis on art in Antartica. Antactica creates conflict between perception and cognition, what William Fox calls cognitive dissonance (same as in weightlessness actually).
He writes at lengh in his book "Terra Antarctica" (by the way : a big thank you to Lisa Roberts who has mentioned this book on her blog and made me discover it) about the different systems of representation of Antartica : from the maps, to the cartography, to scientific imaging, to art of various kind (the one that "represents" and the one that "interprets" in his wording). He stresses upon the fact that in order to look "true", representational art has/had to "cheat" = what we feel being a bit different of how a true drawing would be. He also emphasizes how our scientific imagery is datas transformed into pictures that are heavily reworked (by illustrators and artists and not the scientists themselves) in order for us to be understandable and to match our understandings (like having red for hot spots for instance). This is well known, and has been the core of Semi-Conductor "Brilliant Noise" film (absolutely a great work of art).
Fox writes (about the comparisons between paintings from the "naked eye", photographies and data imaging from various instruments including satellite images) : What "is" is not exactly what we see, while what we see is not exactly what we represent, and neither of these two images, one a piece of "representational art" and the other a "scientific graphic", is necessarily more accurate or complete a view than the other. Aesthetic choices have been made in both cases; indeed, they are as rampant in scientific imagery as in fine art".

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