Colour in a ‘techno-scientific world’

Between March and October, 2015, Christina Mackie’s nine-metre-high silk nets hung in Tate Britain’s Duveen Gallery. The pastel, soft fabric trickled down into pools of dense, crystallised dye, whilst a life-size, yellow laboratory sculpture loomed in the next room.

Through her exploration of colour perception the artist has marked the current disarray among philosophers on the nature of colour experience. The silk nets juxtaposed with petri-dishes and test-tubes embody the clash between subjective and objective ideas of colour. Is it a private, mind-dependant, phenomenon to experience the drip of a pastel lilac to deep purple; or is it an externally measurable, physical spectacle?

The exhibition aligns my curiosity with literature on colour and artists’ perspectives. Having studied phenomenology and philosophy of perception, it is clear to me that Mackie has an avid interest in both of these philosophies. Phenomenology, or the method of phenomenological reduction, is the study of pure, subjective experience when any beliefs in the existence of an objective world are suspended. It is a way to explore the nature of our conscious experience whilst any objective, scientific understanding of the nature of consciousness remains ultimately mysterious. The floating silk nets seem to allude to this subjective – insideout – perspective of colour vision.

The philosophy of perception is a field of philosophy which debates how we can perceive the world. The two sides of the debate disagree on whether we passively receive a copy of the world, as a simulation in our minds, which allows us our visual experiences. Or if we actively engage and interpret data in order to form a rich internal visual experiences.

the filter, aptly named, points to the latter view of visual perception, in which the subject is active in forming and piecing together her perceptual experiences.

What if, Mackie asks, there is no clear demarcation possible between self and world, subject and object? Mackie suggests that we are not passive observers but active participants… turning the confusion of the world into intelligible form”

The world bombards us with billions of sense data yet our perception is ordered, focused and intelligible. We do not simply see what sense data is picked up by our eyes, there is a working process between mind and body to interpret sense data and visual scenes.

A sharp division between objectivity and subjectivity is assumed in a techno-scientific world- but Mackie seems to be questioning the fixity of this binary opposition.”

I’m researching this marriage of subjective colour experience and objective colour vision for my final year project at Bristol. At the moment, I’m looking at this article, ‘The phenomenological character of colour perception’ by Edward Wilson Averill.  He attempts to explain colour as a physical, objective property, whilst at the same time accounting for what it feels like to experience colour.


Quotation from Clarrie Wallis’ introduction to the exhibition.  All images my own.
Follow the hashtag  #thinkingincolour  for more of my ideas on colour philosophy and please comment any of your thoughts below!


3 responses to “Colour in a ‘techno-scientific world’

  1. Pingback: The artist with an appetite for colour | Thinking Hatt·

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  3. Pingback: The language of Japanese colour combinations | Thinking Hatt·

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