Saturday, July 31, 2010

Illusions: When In is Out and Up is Down

Optical illusions are fascinating. It is delightful when they occur in everyday life, rather than encountering them in print. Recently, one of my masks was left upside down on my dressing table. When I looked at it, it appeared to be right-side up. Even with closer inspection, the illusion was so real that it was impossible to see it any other way. Pictured above is an unaltered image of the mask. Below are two photo shopped examples which I couldn't resist playing with.

Another startling optical illusion can be created if you have eight-foot ceilings. Get a large hand mirror that is at least 4" x 4". Mirrored tiles work perfectly. Hold one parallel to the ground and at least six inches from your chin. The idea is for the reflected image in the mirror to fill your viewing field. Then walk around. If the mirror is big enough, your ceilings are eight feet tall, you will perceive that you are walking on the ceiling. Light fixtures and ceiling fans have to be negotiated. When you enter another room, you have to lift your feet to walk over the door jam!

The best part of this illusion is when you go outside. Once you step over the door jam,and walk to the edge of the porch or roof overhang, you are gazing into a bottomless sky or deep space. NOTHING is beneath your feet. Do you take that last step into the void ? Do you take a leap of faith?

Which brings me to Yves Klein in the first photograph of this post. It is called Saut Le Vide, (Leap into the Void) Paris, 1960 by Harry Shunk. It was on view recently at the Menil Museum here in Houston, and is one of my favorite images. Klein was known for this photograph, which shows him leaping off a wall, arms outstretched towards the street below. The large tarpaulin Klein jumped onto was removed from the final image, making this a photomontage, which in the end, was only an illusion.

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