The excellent ‘Playing with Light’ exhibition opens at the Powerhouse Museum on 14 September to coincide with Ultimo Science Festival. Developed by Scitech in Perth, the exhibition invites curious visitors of all ages to interact with prisms, lenses, mirrors and colour. To herald its arrival, I’m featuring this playful anamorphic mirror and weird drawing, which live in the Museum’s basement along with two other distorted drawings that reveal their truth when viewed in the mirror.
What’s going on? In a back-formation (ana–morph in Greek) process, the illustrator created the drawing while watching its reflection take shape in a cylindrical mirror. (Or they could have mapped a regular drawing section by section from a square grid to a fan-shaped grid.) This resulted in a distorted image that makes little sense when the mirror is removed. For a viewer who has not watched the creative process, putting an identical mirror at the same spot as the artist’s mirror reveals all: the distorted image suddenly makes sense. Why not have a go? Enlarge and print one of the drawings below, roll up a length of reflective material (clear plastic backed by white paper worked for me), stand it on the small circle and look at the drawing’s reflection.
Is the technique merely a form of play? Yes, it is play. No, there’s nothing mere about it, and it’s not just for children. Like the best forms of play, it is a learning tool designed to stretch the viewer’s mind and spur curiosity. In the hands of Salvador Dali or Maurits Escher, the anamorphic mirror was a tool for exploring new ways to represent our 3D world on a 2D surface, as well as for challenging the viewer to think and explore. Artists are still experimenting with the technique today, discovering its possibilities, playing with ideas in geometry, optics and perception.
‘Playing with Light’ will be at the Powerhouse until 9 February, but getting in early is highly recommended. If you come along during Ultimo Science Festival, you can experiment with light, get creative with coloured lights, and experience a lot more serious fun and science-flavoured camaraderie.
Written by Debbie Rudder, Curator