Bill Ramage



While trying to explored the dynamics of perception, I paid special attention to the role of culture in perception (Is seeing believing?), developments in Art History (What are the effects of linear perspective and cubism on our perception?), and the phenomenological experience (What actually happens when we see?).

The site-specific drawings (installations) asked many questions about how we codify our understanding of the visual space around us. Between 1973 and 1995 I did more than twenty of these installations in galleries and museums throughout the Northeast and in Richmond,Virginia, Chicago, New York City and Kiev, Ukraine.


"Spin," "color," and "charm" were words physicists used to discuss things that had no spin, no color, and no apparent charm. Literally these words were meaningless. Only as metaphors did they make sense, and as metaphors they made possible the description of what the physicist P.W. Bridgman referred to as "something truly ineffable" ... the world of quantum theory.

If you were to encounter intelligent beings who never had eyes and a mind that sees, you would never be able to explain what it is that happens when you open your eyes to let the light (heat.....electromagnitic radiation) interact with your brain. And if you tried, at some point in your explanation you would start to use a metaphor, to discuss "spin," "color," and "charm." The installations I constructed were essentially metaphors. They were attempts to express all the things I don't or can't completely understand about perception. I have developed a keystone metaphor: Centripetal Perspective. (Centripetal means to move or tend to move toward a center.) It was a way for me to describe the interaction of the intrinsic complexities of a person with the outside world, the linking of mind and light, the joining of two very dissimilar energies.

The essential framework of the installations was a grid of perceptually perpendicular lines, mathematically applied to walls from a designated point that becomes the absolute center of the space perceived. These carefully measured lines map and monitor the expansion of the space from this absolute center, in effect transposing the visual dynamics of any given site specific space into a kind of Mercator construction.

The metaphor has grown as the installations have developed. Early pieces were little more than a zealous argument for the model itself, an explanation that explored the belief that a centripetal codification is a more versatile and articulate description of our seeing than the fifteenth-century model of linear perspective.

The early installations reached two complementary conclusions. One was that centripetal perspective is not an applicable system as is linear perspective. Each installation is a model, not a set of directions. You can not take it home and use it to create a truer perceptual world. The second conclusion provides the reason for this: the centripetal is mostly about what is inside the mind at the center of what is being perceived. The centripetal metaphor then looks inside, exploring the visual acuity projected from the vanishing point behind the eyes in the mind that sees.


It is possible that we will never fully comprehend the activities of transforming light into seeing. Physicist, biologist, ophthalmologist, neurologist, cognitive psychologist, philosophical empiricist, sociologist, and artist are confounded by the comprehensive complexities of the sight-thought. And even though we do not understand perception, we continue to perceive--and to be tantalized by the experience.

The perception, the imaging, of each creature reflects its character and capabilities as it meets its needs and lives its life. The physiology, the complexity of thought, and the environment of each creature seem to determine what the seeing will be, what it will mean, and how the seeing will be applied. Perception then becomes an expression of everything the creature is, needs, thinks, wants, and knows.

The last few installations tried to probe perception as though it were the expression of some kind of neural-alchemist, or something that has been quietly conjuring images in billions of creatures going back millions of years before we acquired the wherewithal, the consciousness if you will, to think about it. The centripetal metaphor acquired the suppleness that permited it to look beyond conventional certainties into the mechanism that mostly sees its own knowing. It accepted perception as useful and coherent while developing an understanding that perception has the same relationship to what is perceived as "spin," "color," and "charm" have to the atom.







William T. Ramage, Professor of Art
30 North Street
Rutland, Vermont  05701