drawings and stories
Updated: Dec 2, 2021
paper cut out, 1 ft x 1 ft x 1 ft. a box.
Playing Animation in public places in Delhi
madam series drawings.
I wrote this with a thought that if there is anything fascinating about looking and seeing into the world, then it must be depth, but does depth even exist ??
A conversation on Depth Perception
“ If it is to reach perfect density, in other words if there is to be an absolute object, it will have to consist of an infinite number of different perspectives…” Merleau Ponty mentions of a perspectiveless situation, where I feel you see nothing. The form destroys itself in the imagination. In search of that absolute object, you reach an objectless image. At least, that's how I experience it. Infinite perspectives, because infinite perspectives are existing, but we don't see them all at once. We see what our eye balls are seeing and I draw that. I can draw the samosa, as Merleau would say from so many different vantage points. And I would have to cut it open to see the potato, matar, masala in it, its inner layer, the outer crust to completely know it. Yet he says, quoting - Leibnitz, they are all geometrized projections of these perspectives. The samosa, or in his case, a home near the river can be viewed from an airplane, across the river, or as many views as possible, yet it is all of this and none in reality.
I stop drawing the tree as I understand this example. I can be everywhere to see the tree, and in the end have no grasp of the tree. I can sit in it and have endless points of views. What do we take from this in regards to drawing and seeing?
I take it that I am trained to just pause and look at something. And then when my gaze pauses, whether i draw it or not, this is how see things, i see and begin with marks of outlines.
pg 80-81, experience and objective thought, Phenomenology of perception, M Ponty, Routledge
For this we need to read further, how Merleau ponty arrives at this point. I know for a fact that I am seeing when I put my gaze on something. Otherwise I would not be able to make that mark / stroke on paper. He calls it as - Plunging into the object. When you do this, you create a focus point, then the background emerges because you have a focal point, what becomes clear, the rest becomes vague. M adds the dimension of time to it, bringing in the concept of Retention & Protention of Husserl, of how present is the past of the future and how the horizon of the past meets the horizon of the present which is merging into the horizon of the future. M calls it double horizon, I see triple horizon. This was on temporality and on spatial perspective, the objectless object seen from nowhere becomes an object seen from everywhere. If I continue the samosa example, the samosa’s point of view, from where I see it, is not the only point of seeing. The back of the samosa which I hold in my hand to the world is the front face to every object which sees it. Now the samosa is seen from everywhere. So how I understand it, is that the moment I / we realise we see the samosa, is the moment one realises that everything around the vision spectrum of the object sees it. It's just that we have not grasped it in our perception and when we do so, we see it in that moment only. Eyesight vision is one way of looking at things but M’s interest is to make aware of the vision which is not limited to our eyeballs only. Seeing is Seeing. So seeing as an act is Seeing as an outcome.
“If we enclose the relation between the process of making and the act of seeing, a new unity appears: the union of seeing and making is form.” Edward Hill gives an insight into the act of seeing, into the perspectivless dimension merleau offers, the process of making captures an image. This image has ‘form’. Something we saw, from a vantage point. So we are Seeing something. “The eye is not a camera that forms and delivers an image,...” Gibson writes that the eye is not seeing. The eye lens connects to the retina which connects back to the brain through nerves. The eye does not formulate any 2D or 3D image of the world. Nor does it think and say, this is a chair, a tree or what is depth, distance, near, far. “
pg 11, Edward hill, The language of Drawing, https://archive.org/details/languageofdrawin00hill/page/n7/mode/2up
More directly than the other dimensions of space, depth forces us to reject the preconceived notion of the world and rediscover the primordial experience from which it springs: it is, so to speak, the most ‘existential’ of all dimensions…” Merleau ponty’s words create a back and forth effect on how and what we see. It's true that the eye is not a camera, but by Seeing only we create a sensation for the mind. And in this case, beyond the objects around us, things which are at a distance, as we experience depth. Depth is around us as well.
pg 298, Phenomenology of perception, Merleau Ponty,
Gibson writes that - “height becomes depth when the object is seen from the top, and width becomes depth when the object is seen from the side”. Yet something happens when you experience a sense of distance, like being on top of a hill or a bird’s eye view. Depth, or the experience of depth changes with distance. And things that I have noticed about my seeing is that I behave in a strange fashion at my residence. How I look at the row of houses in front of me, How i control my gaze on my balcony, how I see something when I am alone, when I am on a train, walking or with someone. I struggle to see myself in the mirror except when I am tying my turban. For tying the turban, I have to look, otherwise the folds of the turban will not come out right.
gibson, chapter 9, the ecological approach to visual perception
Seeing & looking
“We only see what we look at.” Merleau Ponty’s words put things in a new perspective. I was referring till this point on Seeing & Drawing as Seeing something and drawing, not realising that seeing is directed to where and what I wish to look at. I’m on my balcony and I have somehow decided to look at the rows of cars. So I direct my seeing to it. Like a mind directs this body / vehicle to look at something. Then seeing happens in which you finally see it. The same thing happens. Perhaps when I sit to draw in a sketchbook. I direct my mind to see, either in the external world or if I am imagining something while I draw. And when I am drawing in the sketchbook in my room, I am seeing the line move.
And while the debate between looking and seeing begins, I would like to bring in Tim Ingold’s words on something I had been missing all along, the SUN. “It is what we see with”. Yes, technically, our eyes function because of the light emitted from the sun and so it's like we see the source of our vision, which is outside the eye balls, if we decide to look at it. But while looking into the world, we don’t necessarily start looking for the light. Because it is bouncing off objects in the physical world. And the light is also functioning under the concept of what Merleau mentioned as the most existential dimension - Depth. The Sun is far. And it reaches our eyes.
Same would be true of moon light i guess. Or even light from a torch. We see the torch, and then we see it lightens up a space, so that we can see, but its light which is bouncing off objects. So we see objects. We become aware of the objects, because our gaze can not see through objects. Unless if it is a clear water lake and we can see the bottom, or to the point light goes into the water and after that, it becomes dark for us. There is unfortunately a range to all this. A range to what we can see. We will stick to seeing only.
And now going back to the debate of looking & Seeing, let's bring in Satre ji. Uncle writes, - “The eye can not see itself” a famous statement of Auguste Comte which should be read in context to the fact that even though I am seeing an object, the object converts into the knowledge of the object through sight. Yet there is no knowledge of sight. Uncle also recommends a third eye seeing the two eyes seeing. So you can see your sense organ, the eyes but beyond it, as he writes, “senses are everywhere yet everywhere inapprehensible”. All the senses, sensations are beyond reach. Similar to the light of the sun. We establish a relationship between where the light bounces off on the object, yet the sensations are objects for the mind.
pg 340, being & nothingness, Satre
Ponty, Pyara ponty who had earlier written on Depth dimension brings me now to Perspective. Something I understand as a drawing process in which I draw a horizon line and a vanishing point. But what do the eyeballs see? And does convergence exist in the external world or is it the function of the eye? I say, function of the eye, because what we see is not what is out there. It is only an inner perception. Even our Cameras are built to operate like the Eye. Our tools of expanding our vision (telescope) to see far or in detail (microscope) are limited to the Eye’s perception.
Heidegger calls Seeing as distance-sense. “Seeing and hearing are distance-senses [Fernsinne]... not because they are far-reaching, but because it is in them that Dasein as deserving mainly dwells”. I recall an example of staring at the mountain peaks far away and finding more connection in seeing them, then the wooden bridge beneath my feet on a lake. I was closer to the wooden bridge and the lake, yet I was in more closeness with what my eyes could see so far away. or this could be a lie, as both are tempting and what if the wooden bridge beneath my feet cracks and i fall into the lake? Yet I also remember another example. Turning, and using my body (as Merleau refers to the bodily experience of movement and seeing) and seeing the trees far away and then turning my head and looking at the trees next to me from near and far. Seeing details of leaves in my face to blurred leaves at a distance.
Things blur at a distance.
On the Eye
“The limitation of the eye is its inability to see even a small surface equally sharp at all points. The eye must “graze” over the surface, grasping sharply portion after portion to convery them to the brain which collects and stores the impressions.”
page 33, paul klee, pedagogical sketchbook
Again Paul klee with his observant eye sees something of the eye. He uses the word sharpness and i am looking at the opposite, that it became blur somewhere. It doesnt happen the same when we draw, everything is sharp and crisp in our seeing, but when we distance from it. It becomes blur and sharp, because we can only see so much of the paper, the surface. The same is true i guess of being on a petrol pump. In india we dont have gas stations, we have petrol pumps. That I am in my car filling up the petrol tank and I can only see so much of the road. I can not at one go have a topographical vision of seeing the whole of the road, of lets say 100 km at one go. As i drive, so will the road appear in front of me, in bits and pieces, in parts, but never as a whole.
A chapter on eyes by R L Gregory, Eye & the Brain breaks it down into parts, the crystalline lens, the iris, the pupil, eye movements and the retina and the fact that we have two eyes and the coordination between them.
I find it interesting where he mentions the eye of the fish in comparison to the human eye. “Fish have a very dense rigid lens, which is spherical and moves backwards and forwards within the eyeball to accommodate to distant and near objects.”
But humans eyes work differently. How does the eyeball, or the different parts of the human eye function. Perception, outwardly perception is one thing and components are another thing. I can talk about the experience of playing basketball yet I need to know the components of the basketball itself. How much air gets filled in it. What makes it bounce. What is the interior and exterior material of the ball?
So at one point it is the interest we have in seeing something. Let us say, for me, that tree far away with the car parked beneath it, that i wish to draw. I am so interested that i decide to take out that pen, or that charcoal or the brush and i search for the ink to dip into, but i don't have the eye of the fish. My eyes will not move forward and backward like the fish. It will focus on something in a very very different way. I am human animal. And what if i alter this somehow ?