Stevenson Gallery, Capetown, South Africa
26 Nov 2015 - 16 Jan 2016


Serge Alain Nitegeka, Silence: Studio Study XVII. Courtesy: Stevenson

Schema considers the nature of perspective and perception. It is the third in a series of summer exhibitions that reflect on the construction of imagery, following A Sculptural Premise (2013) and Chroma (2014). In accordance with the Greek word for ‘shape’ or ‘plan’, which refers to the way the mind makes a structured order out of what we see, Schema imagines many different ways of seeing space, depth and surface illusion.

Exhibiting artists include Zander Blom, Wim Botha, Edson Chagas, Ian Grose, Samson Kambalu, Mawande Ka Zenzile, Serge Alain Nitegeka, Deborah Poynton, Robin Rhode, Hans Richter, Viviane Sassen and Guy Tillim.

Edson Chagas, Dancer. Courtesy: Stevenson

Edson Chagas: Untitled, Bar area, Nacional cine Teatro, Luanda, Courtesy: Stevenson

Visual perception is activated when light waves enter the eye and strike the concave surface of the retina. This two-dimensional image is interpreted into a three-dimensional space by the brain. So compelling is the human predisposition to see the world in three dimensions that the mind constantly fools the eye into decoding flat stimuli as having depth. The technique used by artists in manipulating this human habit is perspective – the art of rendering a three-dimensional image on a two-dimensional surface.

Deborah Poynton, Point, Line, Plane. Courtesy: Stevenson

Deborah Poynton, Point, Line, Plane. Courtesy: Stevenson

The device of perspective has governed ways of representing and seeing in the Western world since its discovery in the early Renaissance. It is now taken for granted and we easily overlook that it is only a schema. At the time when optics, geometry and mathematics were ‘discovered’ and integrated into painting, it was advocated as an ultimate truth, an inescapable law, allied to ideas of progress, newness and improvement. Perspective was embraced because it described the world via a formula, according to a rational, repeatable and easily learned procedure, corresponding to the enlightenment thinking of its time, where everything could eventually be explained scientifically and not just in religious terms. The world could be reduced to an image.

With perspectival painting, the eye of the beholder became the image’s place of departure, with individual viewers immersed in an illusory pictorial realm. John Berger, in his seminal Ways of Seeing, articulates the narcissistic and hubristic sense of control as we stand at the centre of the picture we are looking at. As he writes, the convention of perspective – which is unique to European art –

centres everything on the eye of the beholder, it is like a beam from a lighthouse – only instead of light travelling outwards, appearances travel in. The conventions called those appearances reality. Perspective makes the single eye the centre of the visible world. Everything converges on to the eye as to the vanishing point of infinity. The visible world is arranged for the spectator as the universe was once thought to be arranged for God.

The novelty and complexity of single-point perspective, applying mathematical precision and optics to create the illusion of depth, initially illustrated the virtuosity of artists, until this way of seeing became the convention. For German art historian Erwin Panofsky, this dogma of geometric correctness saw the ‘objectification of the subjective’. In his view, the vision of the world offered by exact perspectival construction was alluring, but in fact remained a ‘systematic abstraction from the structure of the psychophysiological space’. We remain conditioned by this construction of space and it is now the default way of seeing, to the extent that it is a challenge to un-see it.

After 19th century academy painting reached a height (or depth) of perspectival perfection, and following the ruptures caused by the Impressionists, Paul Cézanne was one of the first Western artists to abandon the tradition of perspective. While Cézanne was unconcerned with illusions of depth, the Cubists who followed him sought to depict many different points of view. These artists rearranged pictorial space into something far removed from the presumed accuracy of an eye or a lens, and their paintings sought to represent images more akin to our ways of seeing than those permitted by optics and geometry. From these artists onward, the realisation that three-dimensional space is only a pervading schema has made many artists curious of other traditions of art, which found alternate ways of depicting space without pervasive perspectival demands.

Prescriptive visual traditions have prevailed in South Africa for the past century, at first in a parochial denial of modernism, and later in response to the unequivocal social concerns that contemporary art sought to foreground. The contemporary idioms that reveal and question the elements of perception in the interpretation of visual phenomena have often gone unnoticed. In this context, Schema seeks to convey the liberation of seeing the relativity of all phenomena, without the prescriptions of distance and depth mediating perception.

The exhibition is anchored around a collection of early 20th century experimental films by the artist Hans Richter, which will be shown in dialogue with a new series of films by Samson Kambalu. Richter, who softly posed the most critical questions about the construction (and refusal) of spatial illusion in the modern image, once declared that he was not interested ‘in the subject as such, but more in the articulation on the canvas’.



All content © 2024 Contemporary And. All Rights Reserved. Website by SHIFT