Coded Perception: ‘Out of the Corner of One’s Eye’



This exposition is a contribution to the research project hosted by i2ADS titled The Observation of Perception, considered through drawing. The project is an investigation of how perception, mainly visual but not excluding other senses, may itself be observed in practice. In this case, the question concerns the coding of perception within aspects of shared and individualised language of drawing, when the latter is a complex activity that involves cognition, unconscious factors, and embodiment. To aid such investigation, the artist video-recorded the drawing process and recorded his spoken monologue simultaneously while drawing. A subsequent textual transcription of the monologue that conveys the artist's enunciation and speech disfluency acts both as a textual comparison with and counterpoint to the visual work. The transcript has enabled reflection on what was said in the context of coding of perception and its language of communication, for which reason the artist has divided himself between his artist voice and an interlocutor voice. The formatting of the work demonstrates how it is possible for one's reflexive approach to artistic practice to be objectified in relfective-academic terms by oneself as if from the viewpoint of another. The consideration of aspects of perception by such means is also, in a sense, analogous to how perception can be formatted to observe itself.         


The focus is on a small drawing made over some twenty minutes in conjunction with speaking about aspects of the work’s process into a microphone while video recording. The work’s title suggests that perception is coded, relating to an attempt within the research to address the question of obscurity of one’s artistic intentions. Of course, within one’s reflexivity, variously personal, cultural and epistemological, there will be both known and unconscious levels of coding. This is a complex question that far surpasses that of code at the level of digital media, although the extent of influence of digitalisation on human behaviour brings this to the foreground. Code is the basis of conventional language, as well as societal and cultural rules and regulations amidst individuals and groups. The proliferation and diversity of its means also serve creative, poetic and allegorical purposes.


While I am not unduly conscious of the question of code in my visual practice, the question nonetheless underpins an approach that cross-references between analogue drawing and digital modes of recording, the latter of which exert their influence on the analogue component. When I transcribe my speech in a manner that preserves the character of its enunciation as much as possible, such grammatical coding may have additional impact on how the drawings are received, encouraging their viewer to integrate the question of reading with seeing. The oscillation between visual and linguistic means of consideration of perception is therefore constitutive of my current practice, while within its drawing basis is a tension between analogue drawing and a more expansive interpretation of drawing to include audio-visual recording.


For purposes of clarity to the reader of the present text, I am here exposing the structure of the practice example to an extent that I would not usually consider beneficial to its artistic intention, and by so doing am offering it to both creative and academic critique. While the academic reference also concerns the question of code, the quotes from relevant authorities embedded in the example can be extracted sufficiently to support the same question posed by this introduction. In other words, a practice example concerning code has been offered to a document that foregrounds the question of code in artistic practice, in this case drawing.




© Michael Croft, 2021

The body of the visual work presented as artistic research

The text in the following flipbook presents a single transcript of the voice recording of the above video that is sectioned into paragraphs by interventions into the speech. Both the transcript and the interventions are my own contribution, but are separated by means of pronominal and font to suggest reflexive speech of an artist and reflective comment by an interlocutor, as if these were two different people. This is a strategy that is simultaneously a fiction within the practice example and exposure of such artifice through various clues offered by its narrative. Among the clues will be the sense, to the viewer/reader in their role as reader, that the interlocutor is addressing the speaker of the transcript with a degree of knowledge that enables him considerable though not complete informality. The latter may indicate that even in the most intimate situation available to one, of our self & other constitution, debatably one encodes knowledge of the other with a degree of reserve.

Flipbook, and an indicative example of transcript and response


Code in code within code. The code is of course how I encode myself within the drawing, and then reflect on myself as if looked at. The possibility of externality of the gaze is in this instance given to me by and as the drawing. While there is a good deal of reflection of me in the process of drawing, as revealed in the video and the transcribed monologue, in order to really reflect I have to re-position myself outside of the process, outside of me. For which reason I have coded myself as a third-person embedded in the drawing, video and transcript through my first-person position as the exposition’s narrator, the latter of which is the voice that is at present speaking through and as the text.


The viewer/reader in their role as reader may have noticed a minimal degree of informality written into the transcribed practice example, 'Out of the Corner of One's Eye', through the use of contracted pronouns, which implies that it is, after all, I who am speaking the text, albeit with most of the enunciation removed, unlike the transcript, in which enunciation is redolent. To suggest the parallel to such positioning that can exist in and as drawing, I have referenced semiotics, and the psychoanalyst Marion Milner’s patient Susan's doodle drawings. While semiotics concerns the codification of images and concepts in language, which is theory with which to articulate the language basis of other domains, including visual, Susan’s drawings suggest how a very reflexive approach to drawing can, through reflection after the event, contain coded meaning.


The main theory that I present in the text, however, is Lacan's psychoanalytical explanation of the gaze. The artist’s drawing – again taking up the aforementioned strategy of self-distancing – may be considered an instance of such theory’s practical application, unwittingly, through its suppression of iconic representation in favour of observed objects’ indexing. In consequence, I have considered the obscurity of the drawing’s references as the type of mimicry that constitutes the gaze as camouflage, when camouflage, and indeed the theory of the gaze in which it is contextualised, are forms of coding.


The aggregate of these various references in relation to a drawing that has been visually recorded and spoken in process, should have provided the viewer/reader with some account of the likely use of coding in practice in perception.

An audio-visual video recording (21: 09mins)

And . . . the initial problem, as always–– The initial problem, it is a problem, is that the action camera . . . reads with me–– me, not, not with you the viewer, but with me, it reads as a, imploded blurred, rectangle, that I cannot see through (whooping bird sound), and from this, distance, it spans the entire . . . length of the page, plus, the overleaf . . . the, reverse side of the previous drawing . . . . And I can say that I’m looking, around here I can’t actually see––. I can’t see this point but, except if I move to the, left or the right like this, and of course the (sound of passing vehicle) . . . the wetness of the ink is picking up, the pen so, all other situation . . . is out of the corner of my eye . . . .

Here also, you see, you’ve referred to the camera’s physical obstruction of your view as reading, as noticeably availing itself to you in its capacity to hide aspects of your drawing from your own view, as a blind spot  encoded in your drawing [....]

The referenced drawing, black ink, sepia pencil, 14.8 x 21cm, 2020

The facilitating device that offers an interior space from which the world is perimetered by the imploded oval of orange glasses, echoed by the orange painting of the larger rim of the goggles, then in front and outside of both, an action camera eccentrically mounted by means of screw supports and elastic.