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Rods and Cones
Detail of a video
Notes on Rods and Cones
Flowers can be problematic subject matter for an artist who wishes to avoid the maudlin or the decorative. In this instance, familiarity is exactly what I needed. In order to consider our faculty for color reception I had to use images that would have universal recognition.
Rods and cones are the photoreceptors in the retina. Plump "cone" cells provide color sensitivity and detail. Straight, thin "rods" respond to low levels of illumination and give black and white responses. I've always been fascinated by the twilight hour, when we lose our ability to see color; ie. when we lose the use of our cone cells and rely on rod cells for information.
In my video installation there are fourteen monitors that fall into one of three categories: black and white, color or monochrome. The latter are composite monitors that were used in the past as computer screens and are either exclusively green or exclusively amber.
A summer evening spent in my garden gave rise to the video installation. On that evening I looked at the flowers and foliage and considered their appearance in shades of gray. A violent electrical storm had just passed over the region and even then an occasional burst of lightening would illuminate the sky. In the split second of brilliant light -- to my amazement-- I could see colors in my garden bed. I was impressed that so very little time was required for the eye and brain to engage the services of the cone cells. I had disappointingly few moments to make these observations. As I thought about what I'd seen, it seemed as though only some colors were visible and others not. I could not even be certain that the colors I was seeing were something other than my envisioning those colors I would expect to see.
When we watch a film in black and white we have no trouble identifying objects. We know what they'd look like in full-color; the translation is effortless. Given a black and white image of leaves, there is no question that they are green.
I provide black and white images and superimpose the presumably appropriate color in its primary hue. Leaves conjure up the color green, a rose-shaped flower (it's a begonia) conjures up red, etc. The larger color video projection acts as a "reality check"; it cycles through the several images and verifies the color association.
Here surrounded by obvious manipulations of color, the color projection seems to be the final arbiter of what true colors there were in my garden. Of course this is incongruous; a video projector can be infinitely adjusted. The color here is one version of reality.
How do you look at a garden? You take in details and the long view. Since most often garden elements are static, even the smallest movement is noticed. The video here is nearly motionless, except for the leaves occasionally rustling in a breeze or the arrival of a bee.
© 1999-2013 Adrienne Klein