Artist shares artful vision of the eye at an exhibit

May 1, 2010

Though images of the eye are commonplace for ophthalmologists, artist Jo Yarrington was amazed at the orb that was her eye as shown by retinal scan.

Though images of the eye are commonplace for ophthalmologists, artist Jo Yarrington was amazed at the "wonderful orange planetary orb" that was her eye as shown by retinal scan. She immediately began thinking about her physical eye in relation to her artistic interest in light and how light is experienced through a mediating surface.

It was in the course of her own eye treatment that Yarrington was subject to the retinal scan. She asked to see the resulting image. Fascinated with the picture of her own eye, she began to think about the eye's physical aspects, as well as its role in our creative process.

Yarrington contacted the manufacturer of the camera used for her scan (TRC-NW8, Topcon Medical Systems Inc.) and asked to learn more about the non-mydriatic retinal camera and other technology it used to create images of the interior of the eye. The Oakland, NJ, company welcomed her interest, inviting her to learn from Topcon scientists.

Journey through the eye

The exhibit at the Aldrich Contemporary Art Museum, which opened at the end of January, takes visitors into the human eye, both literally and metaphorically. The entry is a 20- × 30-foot installation of red transparencies that are the magnifications of Yarrington's own eye. The natural light in the museum activates the display.

The camera obscura engages visitors by exploring how the eye detects light and translates it. Light enters the dark room through a small hole, showing an inverted image of the outside world projected onto a screen. Yarrington calls this a metaphor for how the eye sees light and interprets it.

Small monitors in the exhibit show video of moving landscapes.

"Ophthalmologists will recognize these 'landscapes' as eye tissue," Yarrington said. And, larger monitors show the "strata" of the eye.

At the back of the museum, Yarrington included a photograph of an artist's white pigment bowl with dried pigment.

"The perspective of the photograph makes the bowl look like the pupil of an eye. It's not actually an eye, but what do we perceive? The exhibit brings you in through the eye, to examine the mind's eye, the inner workings of the eye-all ocular visions," Yarrington said.

In addition to viewing the exhibit, visitors have the opportunity in the museum store to have their own eyes photographed by the device that was used to create Yarrington's images.

"A self-portrait," Yarrington said. The images are transparent and formatted for the visitor in an editioned artwork.