Retinal Memory Volume

‘Retinal Memory Volume’ is an interactive installation that builds sculpture using the biological mechanisms of the viewer’s eyesight. During the experience the viewer’s eyes both construct, then erode the form.

The patented retinal after-image process can be considered as a form of printing or photography, where the retina replaces the paper or light sensitive film. The object is created from the absence of photopigments in the eye.

Developed with the support from the University of Wales Optometry Department, the work was commissioned by EMAF and first exhibited in 1997 at the Osnabrueck Media Arts Festival .

Described as a classic in it’s field, eleven years since its creation the installation is still touring the museums and festivals of the world. The latest show was at SESC Mostra Festival, Sao Paulo in 2008.

Sequence of Events for a Viewer

  1. Viewer enters a dark room, sits upon a dimly lit chair. Their attention focuses on a small red LED in front of them.
  2. With an interval of 10 seconds between each emission there are 3 flashes of light emitted from photographic flash guns placed 1.5m in front of the viewer.
  3. A 3-dimensional retinal after-image of a chair (consisting of three fluid colours) is formed within the viewer.
  4. After a further 10 seconds a strobe light comes on, lighting up a corner of the installation room. This light amplifies the effects of the retinal after-image and due to the optical phenomenon of Emmert’s law* the chair is perceived to change scale. The chair, consisting of three changing colours, is perceived to be life size, resting upon the floor of the installation room.

“The sculpture is like a solid presence, more real than a memory. It is like an object in a dream, yet your eyes are open.”

As the work is formed inside the viewer, documentation of the sculpture is impossible. The work allows people to observe their own eyesight, and asks the question, at which point does perception end and memory begin?

* Emmert’s Law: After-images appear larger the more distant the screen on which they appear to lie. They (nearly) double in size with each doubling of distance.

A miniature version of this artwork is now in the permenant collection of the Phaeno Museum, Wolfsburg, Germany.

Writings on ‘Retinal Memory Volume’
Published in by Robert Thill  read here
Art in Mind written by Jerram, published by Watershed