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Toril Johannessen

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Unlearning Optical Illusions (III)

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Unlearning Optical Illusions (III)

Printed cotton, steel racks. Dimensions variable.
Installation view from Vigeland Museum as part of the exhibition
Kunsten tilhører dem som ser den, Norsk Skulpturbiennale 2015.
Photo: Christina Leithe Hansen


Excerpt from catalogue essay by curator Anne Szefer Karlsen:

"Toril Johannessen has for a long time been interested in
optical illusions, and Unlearning Optical Illusions III (2015) is the
third instalment of a long-term project. Five patterned textiles
have been draped in the room, stretching out from rolls that
allude to the aesthetics of the textile industry. From a distance
these materials resemble those found in markets and as clothing
in West Africa, but upon closer inspection the patterns reveal
optical illusions named after the scientists who designed
them, such as Hermann, Müller-Lyer, Poggendorf, Hering and
Zöllner. This serves to weave perception psychology together
with textile history, prompting us to reflect on how cultural
identity is created. Optical illusions influenced how visual
perception was explored in the nineteenth century and helped
establish psychology as a separate discipline. It was around the
same period that the traditional Indonesian wax-resist batik
technique was industrialised by means of mechanical printing
in the Netherlands. The fabrics were subsequently exported,
and they became popular in West Africa – indeed, they have
become so ubiquitous there that they are often seen as expressions
of African identity. In many of her works, Johannessen
has appropriated well-known scientific techniques to produce
her works, as she also does for the Unlearning Optical Illusions
series. Illusions have been instrumental in studies of cultural
variation, helping reveal that the way we see things is related
to the environments and landscapes, both architectural and
cultural, that we grow up in and experience."