Visual Alchemy

Maria Chiara Fagioli

The irrational and unconscious, the associative stimuli in photography and in the arts.

Since the end of the 1950s, the artistic movement Op Art, born from the encounter between Bauhaus’s shapes and colours in the first artistic phase


© Johannes Itten, The Encounter, 1916, Oil painting on canvas, 105 x 80 cm


and Futurism studies,


© Giacomo Balla, Velocità e rumore, 1914-5, Sculpture, 40.13 x 46.5 x 7.9 in.


becomes established, exploring phenomena of perception, and psychological and optical mechanisms in symbiosis with technology. It is formal abstraction, a language properly based on patterns of perception psychology, which stimulates visual effects, and optical sensations from the viewer’s point of view.

The greatest production is in painting and in cinematographic works, while the photography recalls objects on light-sensitive paper, the “Photograms” by László Moholy-Nagy, professor at the Bauhaus school, but also the cross avant-garde of the eclectic precursor Man Ray, like his “Rayograph” of the 1930s. Photographic work becomes an act of genius, mental, as well as image from real life. The mechanicalness of the medium blend imagination and shutter click elements. The technique is mixed with irrationality, towards new mechanical creations and ways of perceiving images by connecting them to unconscious and individual anxieties, till erotic fantasies. The spectator is indeed projected into formalist mechanical forms expressive languages or abstracting visions, where he acquires new knowledge of the world of senses and intellect.

From Optical Art, numerous experiments of visual mechanisms have been made, expanding the horizon with mathematical formulas and technical experiments.
Effects and sensations are the answer of the perceptual process as a result of visual stimuli organized in shapes, directions, and movements, finding crossroads between anatomy and physiology of the nervous system and the conscious of the observer. What it’s seen can manifest constancy phenomena, referring to constant elements for adaptation, experience, desires nature. The perceptive process establishes relationships with neural mechanisms of patterns, such as translations, dilations, rotations that can be combined into percept and unitary macros. What happens when percept leads to more perceptual experiences? This is the case of the synaesthetic phenomenon, where multisensory experiences occur as a result of a given stimulus, as in the case of graphemes and colour that may be associated. Synaesthesia influences perceptual and cognitive mechanisms in the same neural condition. Studies on colour contrast effects have hypothesized the relevant object-color association catalysed by a low-level visual perception, thus with-unconscious access.

From the tasting pictures, to colours that sound, art has described two types of experiences: the one realised by the synaesthetes, the one that provokes associations in the spectators, and we can remember Kandinsky and Anne Salz. In photography, we often find experimenters who recount an indefinite sense of impossible rationality, through compositions often hung in the balance between emotional involvement and the shutter click.


© Eggleston , Untitled Improvisation DCC 02.25 3-01 + Greenwood, Mississippi, 1973, Photography



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