Parallax Barrier is an immersive light environment in which a single video slices through a three-dimensional grid of hanging fabric. The projection is at once a solid swath of light and a continuum of moving images flowing across the layers of fabric and the viewer. Stepping inside the installation, the work appears to be an abstract three-dimensional structure. Each image is extruded into space, distorting, converging, and overlaying onto itself in a shimmering matrix of movement and color. As the pieces of fabric are arranged in regular intervals of depth, any change in perspective induces a fluid parallax effect. Pieces further away seem to move slower than those close to the viewer, creating a cone of pulsating light that appears to shift and follow viewers as they navigate the work. Moving towards the projector, landscapes, city vistas, and grids begin to resolve and collapse into two dimensional space, vividly intersecting and overlapping onto each other through rapid editing. By positioning their body in and around the installation, viewers can intuitively explore a gradient of possible visual experiences.
Each encounter with Parallax Barrier is unique; a visual and physical interference pattern is formed by the passage of a two dimensional image through the passive rational structure of the fabric grid and the active rational structure of the viewer’s visual system. As they overlap at different points around the installation, one experiences radically different perspectives. These combine over time to form a perceptual model of the projected environment, the viewer gradually understanding the rules of this new spatial system much as one would explore a room in the dark: each new encounter adding and refining their perceptual model. And, in much the same way, the viewers become acutely aware of the normally unconscious process by which they rationally navigate through space, integrating visual and kinesthetic information to predict how they will interact with the environment as they move through space.
The structure of Parallax Barrier is informed by the emerging fields of embodied cognition and predictive processing. These hold that rather than simply reacting to incoming stimuli, the brain’s understanding of the world is directly linked to our use of our sensorimotor systems, and that feedback from those systems are used to create and update predictive models of experience through a process of bayesian inference. In such a view, we are constantly evaluating new and familiar environments based on intuitions built up through the accumulation of past embodied experience, from high-level concepts of architectural space down to the tiniest movement of one’s foot. For example, as we approaches a doorway, we infer its structure from our unconscious mental model while also updating our inference with each footstep closer.
Parallax Barrier is built both to encourage such sensorimotor-based cognition and to make the viewer directly conscious of the process of the rational inference being engaged, intuitively and without pedagogy. The parallax effect amplifies every small movement through space into a significant and captivating visual counterpart that quickly allows the viewer to build and test their own mental model of the architectural structure of the work. As the video component evolves, supplying new forms of stimuli through the same rigid environment, one is able to refine this model further and become attentive to subtler systems: how a two dimensional image is projected onto three dimensional space, mapping onto objects, bleeding through surfaces, diffracting, expanding, and dimming; how our brains infer depth and dimensionality through static and dynamic cues of two dimensional space (through binocular fusion); how the material qualities of the fabric accumulate through each layer, and so on.
This process is both introspective and creative in multiple senses of the word. The viewer is engaging in a dance of light in space, an active participant that shapes one’s own unique aesthetic experience through their body’s movement. Each step brings a new perspective, a new understanding, to the viewer. And it is this intuitive visual and physical creative drive that sets into motion the neurophenomonological process of creating a mental model of a novel physical environment. The components are familiar, aiding in the quick assimilation of these effects, but the combination and arrangement is may well be completely foreign and estranged. As one begins to understand the interactions between light, fabric, and the eye, the rational and irrational structures which govern them are laid bare.