In The Object Stares Back, the author James Elkins discusses the nature of human perception and how it is not as objective as the beholder would believe. An individual sees what the brain thinks they need to see and to some extent, we are insensible to the selectivity of our vision. In an example of our unwittingly partial view of the world, Elkins reminisces about attracting moths to study them when he was young. “I might be walking down the street, thinking of the business of the day, when I find myself suddenly looking with piercing attention at some patch of peeling paint on a wall, or the torn corner left when someone has pulled a stapled notice off an electric pole. Something in my subconscious must still be scanning for that particular shape, and it breaks into my conscious thoughts to warn me when it thinks I have discovered a moth” (Elkins, 1996: 55).
Though the ability to filter the less immediate visual information could have been a useful hunter-gatherer tool, it also causes the human foible of easily filtering out the commonplace phenomena of our world, in favour of immediate dangers and desires. Elkins believes: “Our ‘objective’ descriptions are permeated, soaked, with our unspoken, unthought desires” (Elkins, 1996: 33). We could avoid this ‘blindness’ by exploring different vantage points to look at our environment and it’s functioning in a new light. “There are also spectacular, astonishing things we routinely overlook… Another common sight uncommonly seen is crepuscular rays, the beams that radiate from the setting sun.” (Elkins, 1996:51-53). This way of looking from a different angle reminds me of the architecture of Los Angeles and how Tom Hansen, the protagonist in the film 500 Days of Summer, admires the city from a vantage point and thinks about how it could be better designed.
‘Seeing things from a different angle’ is why it is often good to go away from a piece of work and come back to it – to gain a new (or outsider) view on a space, object or idea. I’ve really enjoyed selecting the beautiful and characteristic parts of the architecture of Leith (where I live). It isn’t too difficult to find the juicy berries among the leaves. From the ship weathervane on a school building to the spiralling victorian street lights with a sprig of thistle on top, Leith has lots of clues that hint at it’s history.
I particularly wanted to incorporate the town’s typography. Painted signage from yesteryear can be seen weathered but resolute on the brickwork of shops and garages. Though sign writing and handwritten chalk boards are making a welcome aesthetic comeback on Leith Walk, plastic signs heralding the town’s exotic fare are also a part of the lively and diverse make-up of the area.
The town has many cuisines, clothes styles and textile designs from all over the world along with charity and ‘junk’ shops, tiny cafés and quirky pubs. I am working to process these observations into a culturally diverse ‘everycity’ through my illustration work, which verges on the fantastical. This is idea somewhat similar to the scene in Amelie where the main character effervescently describes the quotidian yet stimulating Parisian street scene to a blind man.
All of this, I hope is distilled into the book I Found a Balloon. It is set on the walk and is about a family that I sketched in a nearby shopping centre – I often go there to sketch. The image of a Dad carrying a baby in a carrier and walking with his small daughter stuck with me. The girl was around the age of six and she held a pink balloon. I didn’t pay much attention to it but then saw it bobbing along past the shops, even when the girl was out of sight behind signs and barriers around the café’s seating area, it could be seen floating above. Then I started to think about a story where the balloon could be seen bouncing along different shop facades and drafted a story board. This is the book that I have been working on using printmaking methods of photoetch and monoprint (I have mentioned them in earlier posts). I aim to get this publication finished by the end of August.
“Everything the eye falls on has some momentary interest and possible use” (Elkins, 1996: 22).
Landruc (2009) Abandoned Church https://www.flickr.com/photos/52175516@N00/2203222901
500 Days of Summer http://goodpixgallery.com/500-days-of-summer-sketch-photos/