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Mapping Perception

by Giles Lane and Katrina Jungnickel, Editors, Andrew Kotting
Proboscis, London, 2002
80 pp., illus. col & CD-ROM + VHS. Paper, $US25.00
ISBN: 1-901540-21-9.

Reviewed by Mike Leggett
University of Technology Sydney


"…it doesn’t exactly look like a human being yet. Although it has a heart that beats." Lines like this proliferated in the movies of the 30s and 40s: Frankenstein; The Island of Dr Moreau; Cat People. Medical intervention into the realm of the human organism (parthogenesis) was the subject of endless invention in the minds of screen writers and the makeup department. Together with stentorian speeches by the likes of Charles Laughton and others standing in the shadows of film noir, public awareness of aspects of contemporary medical science were the more positive outcomes that could be hoped for through the coming together, for brief moments anyway, of the creatives and the M.D.s.

Mapping Perception is an altogether more responsible document and description of an art and science collaboration that occurred in the late 90s. The above quote from the ‘monster’ film genre is used within a sound collage, the soundtrack to one of many film fragments, gathered with much else besides, by the film maker Andrew Kotting and his four main collaborators: Eden Kotting, his daughter, artist and performer; Giles Lane, curator and producer; Dr Mark Lythgoe, neurophysiologist based in Britain’s premiere children’s hospital; and Toby McMillan, sound designer.

Eden was born in 1988 with a rare genetic disorder that led to impaired brain function, the focus point for the collaborators embarking on this "experimental entanglement". The project, was multi-layered, crossing disciplines and led to material outcomes that included, from the artists, a 35mm film, an audio-visual installation, a CD-ROM together with the elegantly designed and printed book. (Excerpts from the film with notes and movies about the making of the film and the installation are included). The range of formats in this package both require and allow alternative ways of engaging with the collaborators’ work.

The scientists, (including contributions from such distinguished scholars as Professor Richard Gregory, experimental psychologist; and a cosmologist; physicists; specialist radiologists), outline their fields of expertise in relation to Eden’s experience and in various ways describe and advance our understanding of the faculty of perception. This is no given. Though Eden is impaired, her perceptual apparatus cannot be measured against those of us who are differently abled anymore than communication can occur between two people ignorant of one another’s language — signs and little performances between one another might help, but nothing will enable rational intercourse. Perception is specific to each individual and each circumstance, and any or all of the five senses that come into play.

The neurophysiologist Mark Lythgoe uses the metaphor of The Castle of the Five Senses in the film, where five narrow arrow windows restrict our ability to receive incoming stimulus. He reveals: "The narrative for Mapping Perception was created not via a series of happenstance events, but was formed like a jigsaw — piece by piece, trial and error — until the story we had in our collective unconscious was realized. Those were the moments of revelation for me. … I cannot explain how or why you suddenly get those moments of clarity, when that fuzzy fog inside your head finally lifts."

The book and the CD—ROM mirror one another interactivity with their content being similar to both. The CD—ROM of course contains many motion picture clips, the book includes a handy pull out sitemap to prevent any chance of dislocating the interaction.

Certainly a lot of stuff happened during these four years. Kotting notes: "A film as first attempt at coming to term with Eden’s condition and my new state of mind." Possibly this means his mind adapted to a different viewpoint: "In science there is no comfortable escape into the world of words." The producer Lane described the project as being "…a much more balanced and feminine approach to thinking in a non-hierarchical and non-deterministic way and much more open to difference…"

This project was significantly supported by the Royal College of Surgeons; the Sciart Consortium; the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation; several departments of government and the Royal College of Art. It was much more than a significantly documented collaborative work between artists and scientists. It reminds us that our place in the world is initiated by factors outside our control that through individual determination and resolve can be made conscious by our engagement with it. The person opposite us at this moment in time as this is read is where this begins, and begins again.



Updated 1st March 2007

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