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Perception and Pareidolia

In the book Perception, by Barry Maund, he said: ‘We don't see things as they are, we see things as we are.’ It's fascinating how much meaning is made up of very little evidence. This occurs not only in painting but also in everyday life. When the mind perceives a familiar pattern of something where none actually exists, this is known as Pareidolia.

An example of this would be seeing visual representations when looking at clouds or rock formations. Pareidolia occurs when the brain is bombarded with a stimulus; causing it to continue to perceive that stimulus even when it is not present. Therefore, the act of learning something too well will interfere with one’s perception of reality.

I think that most people would have experienced Pareidolia. You don’t need to be on acid to see faces in the tiles of your bathroom. But most people don’t know the term for this experience. I didn’t either until I really started unpacking and looking deeper into my art practise in 2016.

I still remember a childhood visit to Punakaiki (my favourite place on the West Coast of the South Island). The area features these incredible rock formations. One location had (and still has) a sign asking, "What do you see?" with an artist's depiction of various objects found within the rocks. I carried that concept with me wherever I went as a child. To me, objects seemed to possess personalities, as if they were anthropomorphised. There is beauty in allowing our minds to wander and conjure different interpretations of what we see, and a child’s mind seems to be very good at this. In my work, I combine different elements to create an experience that evolves and transforms the more one engages with it.

I want to create works that draw you in and keep you looking. The work unravels; the pleasure of contemplation and examination. The paintings reveal themselves slowly, almost ‘continuously’. The content is interconnected and complex; giving multiple ways of reading the image. As one’s point of view shifts, so does the image.

I think that all of my work has a strong human presence without depicting this in full. A Pareidolic experience is so common because figures are easily picked up by the eye. Evidence suggests that humans are actually hardwired to perceive faces and figures. We don't see the world as it is, we see the world as it is useful to us. It is an adaptive advantage to interpret information from faces, which is vital to perceive personal identity, relationships, facial expressions, and possible action tendencies. It would have been a benefit to recognise a figure or face from a distance quickly in case of a threat.

Our brain works as a filter lens. It filters reality in such a way that makes us aware of certain elements around us that are useful to us and unaware of less useful elements. This means that our brain does not work like a camcorder. Rather, it dynamically shapes what we perceive with our senses through the lens of evolutionary biology.

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