Jill Scott

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Jill Scott with The Electric Retina. Photo by Mark Ashkanasy, RMIT Gallery, 2009

Jill Scott with The Electric Retina. Photo by Mark Ashkanasy, RMIT Gallery, 2009.

Change the lens – change the disease.

Jill Scott is interested in visual perception and how the plasticity of the brain changes according to different sensory perceptions. The artist has been using technology in art for the past 28 years, incorporating live video surveillance and performance.

Her work in Super Human is large and sculptural – it’s no coincidence that it looks like a giant eye as it is titled The Electric Retina and is the result of Scott spending 9 months in a neurobiology laboratory working alongside scientists in eye disease investigation.

“I was impressed with the fact that all eye disease is researched on the zebra fish because the zebra fish has comparable retinal construction to our eyes – and that’s because we evolved from the fish,” Scott said.

“The genetics in our eye and the fish are very similar. As an artist working alongside scientists I made the same experiments as them and came up with a way of representing their research.”

Scott is Professor for Research at the Institute of Cultural Studies, Art, media and Design, ZHDK University of the Arts, as well as Co-Director of the Artists-in-labs program, Zurich.

She moved into working with interaction in the early 1990s and worked extensively win computer animation and digital technologies – but one thing that has always remained consistent is her interest in the human body and how it interacts with technology. Scott has subsequently been working with science, and particularly neuroscience, over the past 9 years.

The Electric Retina, which combines retinal research and interactive media art with metaphorical associations about visual perception, is the result of such research. Scott hopes her work gives viewers a better understanding of how our visual and cognitive reactions are influenced by genetics, disease and degeneration.

“I have tried to represent how a fish sees with impairment. I started by asking blind people how they see because very rarely blind people can’t see anything: usually they have ranges of percentages of sight and can see some light. I have worked extensively with blind people and so find this whole area of visual perception fascinating.” Scott said.

“Then I went underwater with a camera and shot the video that reproduced the stories about what people with a visual impairment could see.”

At the front of The Electric Retina, viewers can change the lens by rotating it, thereby displaying a different visual representation of what a fish might see with a particular eye disease. Change the lens – change the disease.

“What I have done with this work is animate scientists’ research and made them into movies which can be seen through the lens of The Electric Retina. I have embedded the medial ideas into the sculpture of the eye, so people can see on screen what it looks like to have a particular eye disease, and from the back of the sculpture, they can see what that eye disease actually is.”

One that particularly interested Scott was a condition called ‘fish noir’ which is a disease that can be altered by diet high in vitamin A and fatty acids.” This is a disease that affects many people in the developing world and it’s tragic as it can be resolved by diet but we still can’t give everyone access to the foods they need to stay well.”

“As an artist, my world is a visual one,” she said.

The Electric Retina has a personal resonance for me as I was diagnosed with glaucoma during the work’s development. I found I couldn’t focus the microscope and although my condition was halted with drops, it cannot be fixed.

“I have included my own deficiency in the project so I am in my own art work.”

For media enquiries, photos and interviews with artists, contact RMIT Gallery Media Coordinator Evelyn Tsitas at RMIT Gallery
Tel: +61 3 9925 1716
Email: evelyn.tsitas@rmit.edu.au