VCO 403 – Individual Experimental Practice

click here for the prezi presentation

The Surreal Psychogeographies
of Fantasy and Semiotics.

 The ‘Psychological Transformation’ of seeing.


Previous Enquiries and Rationale for Direction Change


The work explored in the first semester focused heavily on utilising The Situationists’ theories of The Society of the Spectacle, Detournement, the Derive and Psychogeography along with the philosophies of Semiotics and Simulacra. These themes were used as tools to firstly explore abandoned or forgotten spaces that could offer potential alternate readings and secondly allowed for the examination and re-‘seeing’ of current ‘Spectacular’ issues in contemporary society and media, along with the interrogation of the role of signs and their [often erroneous] semiotic values.

These tools provided a myriad of potential image and film work, and the selected works produced offered, I believe, some novel and challenging re-imagings of the issues examined. However the contemporary culturally referenced ‘spectacular’ work, although having genuine anti-mass media integrity, required a constant need to ‘contextualise’ the work in contemporary media, which often became restrictive; straight-jacketing the more ‘unreal’ and experimental approaches that could have been taken.

The spectacular work had a undeniably ‘political’ motivation, and this politicised methodology frequently felt too temporary and transient; potentially precluding those unaware of the particular visual or current popular culture references; limiting the work all too often to the ‘fashionable’ avenues of anti-media debates.

This need to incorporate ‘spectacular’ reference also necessitated a too simplistic approach to the image work, as the work had to remain ‘relatively’ grounded in the laws of intertextuality and logic, if not ‘relatively’ justified the alternate readings of the semiotics or the location’s genius loci would have been potentially lost in the world of Simulacra. This altering of the original into potential Simulacra in itself was not a problem as it was one of the areas that the work was interested in, however this prospective removing of the recognizable context and the link to ‘reality’ would have been inappropriate for the more representational and pictorial mass media and cultural commentary image work.

Furthermore the ‘cultural’ commentary was potentially becoming too much of a personal statement of political, moralistic and capitalist opinions, which although not an artistic, creative or ethical problem, was potentially restricting the audience’s ability to offer the work their own judgment; not allowing the viewer to individually react or form a ‘different’ opinion to the one already fully visualised in the pieces.

The final rationale for direction change relates to mode of presentation; a BLAD for a book. Although the book was only ever a ‘potential’ initial outcome and the multimedia, interactive nature would have added a certain playful ‘Situationist’ experience, the ‘confines’ of the book format maybe had a detrimental effect to the viewer’s hypothetical ‘visual and contextual’ involvement with the work. The physical confines of the page size, the perceived ‘conventional’ format and the physical ‘act’ of reading/viewing a book counteracted the ‘mental political activism’ [using the term very loosely] that the book hoped to inspire. A larger scale book, or an ‘app’ version may have helped but ultimately the manuscript mode based on a ‘recreational, polite political amusement’, at this time with the selected works produced, diluted the overall ‘worthy’ aims and weakened the intended psychogeographical incitement and projected agitation of the spectator.

New Proposal

The artist, writer –

‘he deceives us into thinking that he is giving us the sober truth and then after all oversteps the bounds of possibility. We react to his inventions as we should have reacted to real experiences; by the time we have seen through his trick, it is already too late…’

The Uncanny’ – 1919 Sigmund Freud.

The new work will still be using the theories of the alternative ‘genius loci’ and the overarching context of the psychological/analytical/geographical effects of a location, object, person or animal, but the work will concentrate on the darker surreal possibilities within the subject matter – exploiting and exploring the more fantastical spatial and temporal narratives of semiotic imagery and values.

However the ‘surreal’ nature of the images, films and installations/sculptures will visualise a ‘representational psycho-sur-realism’, in opposition to the more purely pseudo ‘unconscious’ fantasy imagery normally associated with most surrealism; the work will endeavour to hold a genuineness and subtly that clearly still eludes to the subject matter’s and its themes’ psychological truths, context and narratives.

Much of the work already produced last semester exploited the concept of ‘reality’ and the ‘real’ through image manipulation, and particularly through the medium of the photograph. The way in which we ‘see’ the content and contexts within a photograph and how that differs from how we would ‘see’ it through the human eye in ‘normal’ life has presented a new avenue for visual experimentation and theoretical research. Susan Sontag writes in her book ‘On Photography’ [1978], that the surrealist’s perception was:

‘directed to finding beautiful what other people found ugly or without interest and relevance – bric-a-brac, the naïve or pop objects, urban debris’.

Sontag’s quote aptly summaries one of these avenues for further investigation as the ‘thrown away’, the seemingly banal and often mundane, the ‘ugly’, the ‘non-beautified’ products of human life always have the potential to be re-presented to become ‘beautiful’; the act of photographing these types of images ‘composes’ its perceived initial ‘ugliness’; emancipating its actuality, exhibiting its ‘aura’. Walter Benjamin in ‘The Author as Producer’ [1943], observed that the camera:

‘is now incapable of photographing a tenement or a rubbish heap without transfiguring it… in front of these, photography can only say ‘how beautiful’… it has succeeded in turning abject poverty itself, by handling it in a modish way… into an object of enjoyment’.

Photography and in particular ‘Surreal’ imagery, and my specifically coined phrase of representational ‘psycho-sur-realism’, in theory require the viewer to experience a  ‘psychological transformation’ of their eyesight. The Hungarian Bauhaus painter and photographer Moholy-Nagy believed that photography allowed for a ‘new vision’ that elevated seeing beyond what the human eye can do naturally. In his book ‘A New Instrument of Vision’ [1936], he defined these ‘psychological transformations’ of ‘seeing’ into 8 varieties:


[See appendix for Nagy’s complete descriptors]

Nagy’s 8 categorisations of ‘seeing’ will form the initial tools for this semester’s enquiries.

As you will read in the appendix, Nagy’s descriptors are often of a technical nature, and now with the hindsight of current technology and the many advances in photographic techniques and styles, they seem a little naïve and overly simplified. Nevertheless, the principle of the eye creating distinct psychological transformations when experiencing particular styles of imagery is an area of research that is not only useful in terms of how we as artists design how we visually construct ‘communication’, but also offers a set of ‘adjectives’ that can be applied to the ways in which we ‘see’ certain subject matter and a set of contextual ‘objectives’ that can be used to forcibly dictate a particular condition of viewing.

Source Material

Images and film work will again be sourced from ‘derives’ of sorts, however unlike the previous work, the derives will not simply focus on abandoned, liminal places. Although the bleaker, sinister environments or artefacts will still feature in some of the work, this investigation will explore the psycho-sur-realities of more ‘seemingly’ conventional and ‘banal’ circumstances; placing the work in a more easily accessible context, whilst still challenging the viewer’s perceptions of what they are really ‘seeing’; a ‘fantastical reality’.

Historical images and films/sounds of people, animals and places will be used along side modern visuals and moving image. Images and actual objects will be sourced from archives, visits and personal collating. The French artist Nicolas Dhervilliers comments on his appropriation of historical images;

‘The characters emerge from the past and discover a contemporary era… as a result they are in a state of longing and discovery… while they might be completely made up, they look possible. My entire project works on this ambivalence, as well on its anachronistic nature.’

The British Journal of Photography – Feb 2012

The commandeering of historical imagery and film allows for many avenues of further meaning and relevance to be added to not only Nagy’s 8 ways of psychologically transformed seeing, but their use will also permit referential alterations to their contexts that will be heightened through the juxtapositioning into their new ‘real’ psycho-sur-realities. The way we ‘see’ and react to historical images when placed in altered contexts, is again of interest to this investigation; there is not only an inevitable residue that seeps into the fabric of any new-composed work they are superimposed into, but also they act to render the new context with a wealth of ‘other’ realities.  John Berger in his book ‘About Looking’ [1980] writes:

‘a photograph is not only an image, an interpretation of the real; it is also a trace, something directly stenciled of the real; like a footprint or a death mask’.

Areas of practical work and research

Image work-

An initial collection of images will be themed around the 8 variations of ‘seeing’ as described above; fusing modern and historical photographs of people, animals, objects and locations – re-situating into alternative situations and contexts; creating new narratives of time and space within the psychological, fantastical and semiotic relationships of the elements and subject matter. The work will not only explore the ‘practicality’ of the 8 descriptors and their innate characteristics but will use these conceptual ways of seeing to create ‘psycho-sur-real’ commentaries on the subject matter.

Installations and Film-

Create environments and installations to be photographed and filmed; representing the 8 themes. The new experimental element of creating original installations and sculptures will allow more control over the composition and relationships between the found items’ psychology [possible link to VCO 404 – installations/images/film placed in the ‘public’; unofficial ‘derive’ exhibition, organised through website hub, find other relevant websites, local art organisations to help, see appendix VCO 404.2 – Contemporary Professional Practice – Initial Proposal].

Further Theoretical Research-

Freudian concepts of Fantasy, Dreams and the Uncanny; John Berger, Susan Sontag, Walter Benjamin and Laszlo Moholy-Nagy’s theories of ‘seeing’ and photography; further research into Jean Baudrillard’s ‘Simulacra and Simulation’.

Initial Potential Outputs-

  • Series of 8 image works that operate as separate images, but when ‘interlinked’ or when placed in particular [or none particular] order create a panoramic single image that displays various narratives and visual ‘psychological transformations’.
  • Images could be overlapped, or linked in a ‘puzzle’ style to allow for multiple compositions, or be viewed via a light box that allows for many translucent images to be layered in specific or any order.
  • Images could form an installation themselves.
  • Series of installations.
  • A film that encompasses the narratives explored in the image and installations work.

Audience – ask and challenge the viewer’s initial responses to the work-

  • Exploiting the Freudian deception mentioned in the quote from ‘The Uncanny’, offering an initial ‘reality’ that is disproven by what is ‘real’ within the images and films.
  • Play with the visual ‘fabrication’ of the formal, seemingly ‘old-fashioned’ photography and its juxtaposition to its new context.
  • See reflections of their own ‘dreams’, fantasies, semiotic systems and values in the work; probe at the murkier edges of their conscious; encourage the viewer to experience a ‘psychological transformation’ of their eyesight; exposing them to their maybe dormant fantastical perceptions and question their awareness of ‘seeing’ and what is actually ‘seen’; what is ‘real’ and what is ‘reality’.
  • ‘Accident’ exhibitions/installations of the artwork/images/films in the ‘public’ or by means of a discrete derive; promoted via website and subtle signage, offering the ‘audience’ the happenstance of experiencing the work in unexpected contexts and situations. Attempt to document this interaction.

Summary and Objectives

Using Nagy’s 8 sight ‘transformations’ as a vehicle to produce [initially] 8 image works, a series of installations and films that experiment with how the audience can be ‘affected’ to see and experience the ‘psycho-sur-realities’ of an image [its contextual, conceptual and semiotic reading] in a predetermined way. However, not only [or necessarily at all!] through the ‘describing or qualifying a noun’ grammatical nature of the ‘adjectives’ Nagy used, but more vitally ‘defining’ these qualifications through the nature of the selected images and objects, their juxtapositions within the recreated contexts, the effects and techniques used and the psychological, fantastical and semiotic spatial, temporal and representational narratives produced in the single image, installation, ‘collective’ image and film.



Berger, J. About Looking, London: Bloomsbury, 2009

Sontag, S. OnPhotography, St.Ives: Penguin, 2008

Wells, L. The Photography Reader, London: Routledge, 2003


The British Journal of Photography, Incisive Media, Feb 2012

ArtBox Magazine, James Knight Media, Feb 2012

Juxtapoz, High Speed Productions, Feb 2012


Notes from presentation feedback;

David Hammond – Higher Goals – basket balls rings on very high poles.

Stuart Hall

John Berger – interview on radio 4 – email him.

Halls and Evans – Visual Culture

Taxidermy – have arranged a visit to a collection –

Geoff Dyer – book about Berger

Michael Craig martin – ‘I the oak tree’ – glass of water on shelf

Peter Osbourne – Professor of Modern European Philosophy and Director of the Centre for Research in Modern European Philosophy, Kingston University, London

Derbyshire Framers – exhibition construction.

Talk to Jean about ‘the Uncanny’

Laszlo Moholy-Nagy – The 8 varieties of photographic vision:

Taken from the book ‘A New Instrument of Vision’ [1936], extract ‘From Pigment to Light.

  1. Abstract seeing by means of direct records of forms produced by light: the photogram, which captures the most delicate graduations of light values, both chiaroscuro and coloured.
  2. Exact seeing by means of the normal fixation of the appearance of things: reportage.
  3. Rapid seeing by means of the fixation of movements in the shortest possible time: snapshots.
  4. Slow seeing by means of the fixation of movements spread over a period of time: e.g. the luminous tracks made by the headlights of motorcars passing.
  5. Intensified seeing by means:
    1. Micro-photography;
    2. Filter-photography, which, by variation of the chemical composition of the sensitized surface, permits photographic potentialities to be augmented in various ways – ranging from the revelations of far-distant landscapes veiled in haze or fog to exposures in complete darkness: infrared photography.
    3. Penetrative seeing by means of X-rays: radiography.
    4. Simultaneous seeing by means of transparent superimposition: the future process of automatic photomontage.
    5. Distorted seeing: optical jokes that can be automatically produced by:
      1. Exposure through a lens fitted with prisms, and the device of reflecting mirrors: or
      2. Mechanical and chemical manipulation of the negative after exposure.

VCO 404.2 – Contemporary Professional Practice – Initial Proposal

Design and build website.

  1. To promote my portfolio of photography, graphics and film for freelance commission potential after the MA completion.
  2. A psychogeographic art hub: to promote, organize and map ‘discrete public’ exhibitions of initially my work from previous modules and VCO403, but also maybe curate other themed work.
  3. Allows for multimedia work to be exhibited – film, sound, interactive media, installation and exhibit archive.
  4. Collate relevant academic theories and information.
  5. Maybe have a forum or chat-room link to encourage liked minded artists.

Discrete public art exhibit organisation.

  1. Use the website to promote and map the ‘exhibition’
  2. Produce and organise the ‘exhibition’.
  3. Attempt to document public reaction… scheduled visits to photograph or attempt to video public interaction/experience with the installations/printed work.
  4. Contact local art groups/organisations and similarly artists to get involved or help promote.
  5. Maybe attempt to organise a short but more official exhibit… maybe not to actually happen by May, but if applicable for Sep MA stage modules.


Installations of various sizes secreted in relevant places – from VCO403 work

  1. Prints of various sizes of image work placed in relevant places – from VCO401 and 403 work.
  2. Along with web promotions, maybe a series of discrete ‘signs’ to alert the public to the pieces.
  3. Each piece of work will have a website address on or maybe email/Facebook account to encourage feedback interaction.
  4. Design work to be ‘taken away’ if viewer desired.
  5. Attempt to have film played somewhere – projected onto wall, installed monitor… TBA.

~ by mrtbrown on March 4, 2012.

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