最近作了一個小型調查，每逢遇上朋友，擘頭第一句就叫人家數出五種感官。十之八九都說：眼、耳、口、鼻、身體。或是不自覺地重覆亞里士多德對人類五種主要感官所下的定義：視覺、聽覺、嗅覺、味覺、觸覺。無巧不成話，佛家的《般若波羅蜜多心經》中也有這樣幾句：「無眼耳鼻舌身意，無色聲香味觸法。無眼界，乃至無意識界。」在五種感官之中，我們總習慣以眼為先，也好像以視覺最為重要。藝術評論家 John Berger 也有類似的觀察：嬰孩在牙牙學語之前，已經喜歡東張西看，有時候為奇趣的形狀而咧嘴大笑，有時候為不熟悉的景物而驚慌失措。看東西，是一種近乎與生俱來的認知能力，也是一種很「原始」的溝通經驗，其起源比語言還要久遠。
自己動手創造新的光學工具，確實可以帶來新的視覺經驗，但要挑戰我們的視覺習癖，創造工具並不是唯一的方法。有時候，市面上現存的工具也可以變得玩味十足。就像江康泉和王潔淳改變了 EGG 360變形鏡頭的用途一樣，變形鏡頭本來是用來模擬全景影像的，但江、王二人並沒有按本子辦事，乾脆利用未經電腦處理的圓形影像來重新拍攝白雪公主的童話故事。在未經處理的圓形影像中，景物嚴重扭曲，形體動作的變換自有其獨特邏輯，但更讓人摸不著頭腦的卻是圓形影像中心的「黑洞」；因為廠商預設了變形鏡頭是用來模擬全景影像的，所以圓形影像中心會出現一個黑洞，防止攝影機入鏡。
也許有些 EGG 360 的用家不會在意「黑洞」的存在，繼續在變形鏡頭前亂跳亂動，迷醉於如夢似幻的扭曲影像；對江、王來說，「黑洞」是一個先天的缺陷，同時也是這個光學工具的特別之處，正好用來擾動我們經常往影像中心凝視觀看的習慣。故事中的主角 ── 白雪公主 ── 從來沒法走進或現身於圓形的中心地带，而故事中的主要事件，也撇在相對上次要的黑洞周邊位置。除了皇后和攝影師之外，畫面上的其他元素不斷向外擴散，不輕易讓觀眾代入角色。為了更清楚了解故事的發展，我們需要快速轉動眼球，時刻東張西望；看得倦了，倒可以換上另一副散漫的目光，或許更容易適應圓形影像的節奏。
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You Have Seen Too Much, You Haven’t Seen Enough
More information on the exhibition: Take a ST/Roll
This may seem like an odd question but I will ask it anyway: what are the five senses? Most often the answers are quite unified: eyes, ears, nose, tongue, and body. Or else, they follow, rather unconsciously though, the definition of “senses” distinguished by Aristotle, namely, sight, hearing, smell, taste, and touch. Coincidentally, Buddhists also believe that when we die, we lose these five senses. Philosophical issues aside, the way in which we usually sequence our five senses seems to echo with John Berger’s famous observation of the privilege of Sight: Seeing comes before words. The child looks and recognizes before it can speak. When a funny shape shows up, the child laughs; sometimes it panics when the things it sees are too unfamiliar.1 Seeing is like an instinctive means of cognition, a most “primitive” communication experience. Sight is with us way before language is.
Berger furthers his argument, saying that the way we see is limited by what we know and what we believe. As we grow up, cognition tempers sight and vision. In other words, our visual perception is subject to knowledge. When we cannot make sense of an image at the sight of it, we tend to lose patience. This is sad but quite true that our visual experience is necessarily informed vision. The ways we see speak of the learned habits we have acquired.
Although we learned how to look at certain things, there seems to be an indiscernible desire for new images, for new perspectives as well as for new knowledge. Swelled in the realm of the bizarre, we often turn this straying experience into a pleasure of discovery.
There are thousands of ways to produce new images. Those who keep up with the latest technology can now effortlessly produce stunning images – swift conjuring of colours, lines, shapes and textures to yield new, unthinkable images. TV screens are crammed with landscapes from the farthest end of the world, and the super effects of computer animations rewrite the most familiar physical law, and the list goes on. What is it that we have not seen?
Let us consider the Optical Handlers produced by Eric Siu. His optical tool displaces our eyes to our two wrists as two fixated miniature video cameras. The images captured by the cameras are then transmitted to two small LCD colour screens that cover our eyes like a pair of spectacles. With the Optical Handlers, we produce images not by moving our head but by stretching our limbs and moving freely in all directions. In this work of a heavy Modernist intent, Siu relocates the position of our eyes to produce a vision that is divided, multiplied and somewhat charmingly chaotic. The resulting mobile and decentred vision also produces an unfamiliar perception that in turn begs us to (re-)examine our very usual sense of position, distance and space.
But the most important implication of Siu’s work lies not in the visual and spatial disorientation the tool produces. His work concerns more about the process and method of image-making activities: the de-emphasis of Sight has paved way for the liberalization of other senses like hearing, smell and touch. What is actually (re-)discovered is a sense of body awareness that allows us to “see” our body, if to see means to understand and become aware of. Besides the remarkable perceptual frustrations, we seem to take off from the safeguarded territory of the visual language we know well of and start to communicate freely — perhaps also insecurely — in some other sensual languages that have been too under-developed.
Creating new optical tools is certainly the most direct way to produce new visual experience but there are other ways to challenge our visual habits as well. Sometimes, the “old” tools that are available in the marketplace are fun to play with, too. Kongkee and Reine Wong have, for example, appropriated the EGG 360 camera lens and altered the set usage which is primarily to capture 360-degree panoramic images for the creation of virtual 3D tours. Instead of following the industrial practice to perfect and convert circular images to 360-degree panoramas, they work with the donut-shape of the raw images like it is a canvas –- to (re-)tell the tale of Snow White. Visual distortion is one of the obvious features of the unprocessed donut image but what troubles us most is the apparent limitation of the EGG lens. Since the lens is made to create virtual 3D tours, the manufacturer leaves a blind spot so that the camera itself will not be captured in the image. As a result, a “black hole” remains at the centre of the unprocessed circular image.
While some might simply ignore the presence of the black hole and go on with exploring the magical distortion effect, Kong and Wong have turned the black hole into the body of the cameraperson and narrator to further problematize our tendency to look at the centre of the frame. Snow White, the heroine of the original story, would never appear at the centre of the image. Actions are literally “sidetracked” because they always take place elsewhere across the donut area. Making use of the radioactive perspective, Kong and Wong deliberately places the Queen and the cameraperson around the centre to register a shift of character identification. Consequently, we need to either move our eyeballs very rapidly or to develop a mode of reception that is less about attention than distraction.
The world is much more than it seems in our habitual reception. So, while pushing your way through this boring essay, have you already started fancying about what’s out there? Step out, worlds of insanity are just around the corner but they probably make much more sense now.
- John Berger, Ways of Seeing (London: BBC and Penguin Books, 1972), 7. [back]