British installation artist, Luke Jerram, and researchers at Bristol Vision Institute, are creating something that will raise awareness about the nature of cerebral visual impairment in an artist’s residency at the University of Bristol in the United Kingdom.
“Being colour blind improves my night-time vision and my sense of texture and form is better,” global art-sensation Luke Jerram has revealed, “But my paintings are awful. Because I’m colour-blind there’s way too much green – so, my portraits look dead.”
Working as an artist since the mid-late nineties, colour has never been Mr Jerram’s forte, but what he lacks in the colour spectrum he more than makes up for in experience of ways of seeing, of perceptions – something he cites being colour-blind as actually helping.
Now, after more than a decade producing global artworks with his unique vision, he has teamed up with the Bristol Vision Institute (BVI), part of the University of Bristol, spending one day a week there exploring the complexity and impact of brain-related vision problems.
BVI’s aims are to address the grand challenges in vision research by developing a better understanding of the mechanisms and processes that evolved in humans, and to engage with all sections of society, not just academics.
The idea behind Mr Jerram’s artist’s residency is to create something that will raise awareness about the nature of the type of visual impairment that occurs due to brain injury, cerebral visual impairment (CVI), including the lived experience of affected children and their families. The idea is also to increase understanding on the difference that treatments or environmental modifications can make to CVI.
“I’ve been exploring visual impairment with art since my first days at college,” the artist said.
“I created a sculpture using retinal art images and a photo flash gun to see imagery inside your own head. I built up multicoloured imagery with strobe lights so the viewer could mentally project a floating chair in front of them. It was created from the absence of light, playing with the viewer’s vision but also becoming quite intrusive.”
Mr Jerram will work with Cathy Williams, reader in paediatric ophthalmology at the BVI, and other clinical researchers, including experts in genetics, in brain structure and function, and in magnetic resonance imaging. Their work aims to help children affected by CVI.
The Bristol Eye Hospital, the BVI’s clinical partner, have run a dedicated clinic for children with CVI for many years and has recently started to design new ways of treating some aspects of CVI and of designing services to identify and help them (thecviproject.co.uk).
Mr Jerram’s latest artworks have worked their magic on Ms Williams already. She said: “Seeing Luke’s previous work, and recognising my own and other people’s fascination with the art he has created, has taught me the power of getting people to think differently about something, and how that leads to new leaps of imagination and understanding. I loved the beauty of his intricate glass virus models and the fact that they are deliberately transparent because the real viruses are smaller than the wavelength of light; a great fusion of science, aesthetics and technical skill.”
The public will have the opportunity to explore Mr Jerram’s work in the form of ten exhibits that he will create in collaboration with Bristol’s Botanical Garden, which will be known as the ‘Impossible Garden’. Employing different optical illusions, many of these will fit into a garden theme.
When the exhibition opens to the public, BVI will be able to use the exhibits to illustrate different aspects of vision and provide brief accompanying leaflets to explain what the illusions in the garden can tell them about how our brains create what we see (or don’t see!)
Children, parents, teachers and health professionals have also been invited to workshops in the garden, where they can discuss how the illusions relate to CVI and therefore how best to help or make allowances for these.
“Over the years, many of my artworks have explored vision and how the mind interprets the things we’re looking at,” said Mr Jerram, who is based in Bristol but has worked with academic and scientific institutions across the world for 20 years.
He added: “As an artist I’m keen to communicate how I see the world, but also, through my artwork, allow the public to be given the opportunity to see the world from a different perspective.”
“A large amount of art uses optical illusion of one sort or another, whether it’s through the use of trompe l'oeil in a painting or, more recently, with moving image (film). I find visual illusions fascinating as they demonstrate the processes and limitations of vision. What we see also shows us how the brain works.”