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THEME: Unconscious Perceptions, Occluded Understanding

Published onJan 22, 2021
THEME: Unconscious Perceptions, Occluded Understanding

Unconscious Perceptions, Occluded Understanding

As humans, the eyes and brains have evolved not to see the world as it is- but as it is useful for us to perceive it. Instantaneously, without the logical brain contemplating the visual stimulus we are seeing with the eyes, the brain jumps to conclusions, filling in the “blanks”. Assumptions the brain jumps to are informed by previous experiences, the society in which we were raised, the patterns we see in the media, what we read, and what makes up the world around us.

Although this function of the brain is meant to create ease of existence and protect us from harm, it is frequently misguided. One of the clearest examples of how the brain creates this form of automatic thinking is through optical illusions. The brain recognizes a pattern, fills in information to fit the pattern by drawing from information that has been useful in previous experience, and is, as a result, fooled. Even after learning the trick of the illusion, for many it can be difficult to ever fully see past the illusion to the “true” image.

In the exhibition Perceptions of Identity: Paintings by Rose Frantzen, optical illusion is an instrument to consider how perceptions of others can be influenced by the brain’s unconscious activities–by immediately, reflexively, making associations when receiving visual information–meaning we all have unconscious bias of some kind. Depending on personal backgrounds and experiences, the patterns and associations the brain makes unconsciously may present themselves differently from other people’s associations.

Frantzen employs portraiture and illusion to open up a dialogue with the viewer to understand how conclusions are made in the brain without stopping to know and understand the individual. Similar to optical illusions, despite knowing the truth of unconscious bias and willing yourself to see clearly without judgement, the brain can never truly shed the automatic pattern making.

While viewing these paintings, consider how the identity of the portrayed individuals can be swept up into, and lost within, the illusion of unconscious bias. Take time to reflect on how these thinking processes can be slowed down to create better ways to recognize, question and act against the implicit biases held within.

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