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The online editorial and curatorial project for systems, non-objective and reductive artists working in the UK

Website: Chestnuts Design

Interview with Terry Pope by Charley Peters

July 2015

©Copyright Patrick Morrissey and Clive Hancock  All rights reserved.

CP   What is the starting point for your work?


TP   My work starts with an awareness of sets of interesting visual things and events, and then attempting to invent things that will not only reveal why they are interesting, but also have the capacity to capture attention. The process of invention starts with drawing, and by drawing I mean any experimental activity, in any medium, in any dimension, that explores subject matter.


CP   You have said that the main objective of your constructions is to 'give life to spatial volumes'. Why has the articulation of space become such an important aspect of your work? Could you explain your relationship with, and your approach to, rendering space?


TP   The articulation of space' has not 'become' an important aspect of my work, it has always been the most important aspect. However, I did not at first realise either the full extent to which the vitality of transparent volume was compromised by orthodox methods of expression, nor the complete impossibility of saying things about space without actually using it. When I made my first object in 1958, it started a 'feedback loop', so that from then on, each succeeding work more or less initiated another.

CP   What role do materials play in your work? Is there a relationship between your choice of materials and what you endeavour to explore spatially?


TP   Space is transparent, so not unnaturally I chose materials such as clear acrylic sheet that offer the potential to explore its vital but elusive properties. But the materials do not function as the form only, more often than not their role is formative, and space itself is the medium.


CP   You have named John Ernest, whom you met in 1960, as the single most important influence in your life. What were the most important things that you learned from him?


TP   John Ernest was without doubt the most important influence on my early work. I believe that with the best teachers, it is sometimes difficult to say just what it was that they taught you. In my first year as a student at the Bath Academy, I already knew I did not want to paint or make sculpture, but was really excited about space as a medium. I was lucky to meet an artist who encouraged me in the direction I had chosen, knew how to find things out, and embodied an unusual creative fluency in his handling of materials.

Transparent Construction No.3 1978 61 X 80 X 17 cm

Space Construction 13 Perspex  1962-3  60 X 60 X 12cm  Collection: the Arts Council

CP   Do you still see a relevance in these lessons for a younger generation of artists?


TP   I have often wondered what might be the best way to teach art, and actually believe there is a lot to be said for the 'atelier' system. It is important that young artists learn how to remove obstacles from their own path, and have access to a high level of criticism.


CP   From what I’ve experienced of your work I'm assuming - and apologies if that assumption is wrong - that Arnheim's Art & Visual Perception may have played a part in the development of your thinking, and approach to your practice. How do you translate thoughts and theories about visual perception into physical objects or audience experiences?


TP   Arnheim's Art and Visual Perception was very useful and so was The Perception of the Visual World by James J. Gibson, albeit a book with a very different approach to the study of visual perception. The combination of theory and my own practical experiments helped me to begin to understand more about why we see the world the way we do, direct my own research, and discover opportunities for new experience.

Subjective Object No.5  2010-12  Perspex  55 X 76 X 47.5 cm

CP   If the role of space in your work is its primary concern, how would you describe your relationship with geometry?


TP   Geometric operations have an independent beauty, and I recall being made aware of the properties of conic section in my second year at the Bath Academy. I explored other aspects of conic section with a mathematician friend some years later at Reading University. For some time now my most frequent use of measurement as such, is calculating path-length in optical experiments, which occasionally involves adjustment when light passes through a transparent material.


CP   To what extent would you situate your work within the traditions of abstraction?


TP   Not particularly. I would prefer to emphasise the importance of formal values.

Supercube  2011 120 x 120 x 120cm

CP   You have talked about your artwork as visual instrument, and in particular the spectacles you have designed and built can literally change how we see space and depth. The Hyperscope extends the effective distance between our eyes to provide a dramatic impression of depth; the Cyclopter compresses the view from both eyes into one. Could you explain why you first started to develop these instruments and the stage you are at now?


TP   My constructions are an attempt to make an object that will not only capture attention, but direct it towards what I believe is important, dramatic, special and even beautiful. But it tries to be more, in that its activity aspires to involve the spectator in a collaboratively creative experience of their own - and to take it to extremes.


The development of the four optical devices was a project to discover the limits and capacity of the visual system, and what restrictions, as well as advantages, were imposed by our having two eyes that were about 65mm apart. In our first two years of life, the eye-brain system works out important things about the world, such as how to avoid hazards, advance towards food, and how to deal with moving targets. As a result the visual cortex develops a great deal of processing capacity, much of it made redundant by the requirements of 'normal' vision. If the inputs to the eyes are altered, as they are by all four devices, then access to some of this unused processing capacity is unlocked, delivering new experiences, that before were either difficult to see, or completely invisible. The interesting ways in which these devices complemented normal vision, indicated it was important that they should be made widely available.



Hyperscope MX3 Circa 2015

Pseudoscope MX3 Circa 2015

The Hyperscope increases the distance between your eyes, presenting the visual cortex with greater than normal horizontal discrepancies from each eye, and therefore with more data to generate additional sensitivity to stereo experience. The Pseudoscope, by switching your eyes right to left, left to right, turns space back to front. Objects rotating clockwise appear to rotate anti-clockwise, and background will transparently change place with what was foreground. You see space on the flip-side.


The Cyclopter commons the two visual paths, removing all stereo conflicts, and with the visual system no longer using vergence, it will, among other things, allow you to pass through the surface of renaissance paintings into the virtual space, as originally devised by the artist. The Earth Curvature Device, by using vertical binocular disparities, makes it possible to see the curvature on a sphere that has a radius of 4000 miles - the Earth.


The present status of these devices is that, with the exception of the Earth Curvature Device, all are in different levels of production, and are being used for diverse research by universities and individuals in different parts of the world. Larger pillar-mounted versions, for use in public contexts, are installed in several national science museums.

Hommage au Groupe de Recherche d'Art Visuel 1978 Perspex & Mirror 75 X 55 X 40 cm

There is more information on Terry Pope’s work here:

www.terry-pope.com and www.phantascope.co.uk


The Hyperscope and Pseudoscope, in hand-held form, are now in volume production by www.mindsetsonline.co.uk