Founded in 2016, Peripheral Review is an independent, not-for-profit platform for documenting and expanding the emerging and under-represented Canadian art scene, as well as enabling access for emerging writers by encouraging accessible critical dialogue.
Peripheral vision is a component of our eyesight that occurs outside the very centre of the gaze. Stare at something in front of you and without moving your eye, see how much of the surrounding scene you are able to discern. In humans, our peripheral vision is weak; therefore we tend to mainly rely on our foveal (or central) vision. Despite our limited abilities with the peripheral line of sight, the loss of the fringes results in a condition aptly named tunnel vision: in which what is seen is only what is directly in front of you.
There are elements of peripheral vision that are stronger than central vision. In the eye concentrated away from the retina, light-sensitive rod cells are more adept at perceiving light—an instance of this occurs when one looks through a telescope at the night sky. The peripherals are capable of observing faint stars that a direct gaze would otherwise miss. It is thus important for an optimal viewing experience that the entire eye is used, not only what is seen through the foveal.
The camera lucida is an apparatus first patented in the 19th century by William Hyde Wollaston and translates to “light room” in Latin. The camera is an aid for drawing an object in perspective, allowing the artist to see both the object and drawing surface simultaneously. The notion of dual perspectives is of critical importance to the way in which we try to understand and comprehend art through our sense of sight. Expanding upon the technical applications of the camera lucida, we can hereby begin to analyze the importance of utilizing visual perspectives and its effect on our own interpretations of the image.
Our peripheral vision works in a similar manner as the camera lucida, enabling the viewer to see multiple viewpoints at once, albeit not in perfect clarity. In regards to critiquing and analyzing art, this means two things: firstly, that engaged critical thinking requires multiple perspectives, and secondly, to communicate a perspective clearly requires a coherent translation. In the arts, critical reviews always manifest in the form of text, and despite their inherent differences, the translation involved in transcribing art into text is a compelling one. One such example of connecting visual art and theory are the notions of studium and punctum, first coined by theorist and philosopher Roland Barthes.
Roland Barthes authored the terms studium and punctum in his book titled, Camera Lucida, which was first published in 1980. Although specific to photography, Barthes describes the terms as phenomena that occur when looking at a work, something that holds a certain “power of expansion”. The studium is more representative of the aesthetics or surface quality of a work, “it is the order of liking, not of loving; it mobilizes a half desire, a demi-volition”, whereas the punctum is a deeper, usually hidden element within a work that is significant enough to capture a viewer’s interest. The real poignancy in his use of the word lies in his passion for looking, of viewing a work of art with multiple perspectives.
Another fascinating aspect of the punctum is its interpretative ambiguity, the variance of its form, or even its disappearance, depending on who is looking. The image of partial concealment animates itself in the intensity of the punctum, the hidden gem inside the stone. As Barthes states himself, “it is this element which rises from the scene, shoots out of it like an arrow, and pierces”. However, despite the punctum’s aforementioned potential for vividity, it also has the capacity to be quiet, unsuspecting – but once seen, it can change the reading of the entire work irrevocably.
In critical reviews, visual art is translated into a linear text format, a rendering which highlights and necessitates the need for engaging with the work using a heightened state of looking. The commitment to immersing one’s senses into the act of viewing brings to light the notion that seeing art is not a singular task, and that a proper analysis requires multiple perspectives as well as a critical gaze in order to see not only the surface qualities (studium), but also to reveal the deeper embedded punctum. The possibilities created through the utilization of a practiced eye enable the viewer to engage with perspectives that are missed in the more dominant fields of vision and its discourse.
The potential for encompassing all perspectives with a single gaze is the inspiration for Peripheral Review. We strive to highlight and bring together multiple perspectives to form a cohesive, thorough and expansive dialogue. Our aim is to create an accessible platform that taps into the independent and emerging Canadian art scene. We invite writers and artists to respond to works and encourage viewers to get out and see what’s happening beyond what is in the central vision. By documenting local events, we hope to connect the independent art community, as well as the general public. We believe art is for everyone.
– Lauren Lavery & Adriana Lademann (2016)
Peripheral Review is published by the non-profit Peripheral Review Platform for Art and Criticism. We would like to acknowledge we received the generous support of project grants this past calendar year from the Canadian Periodical Fund from the Department of Canadian Heritage.