Mars, Invisible Vision and the Virtual Landscape: Immersive Encounters with Contemporary Rover Images
How do contemporary imaging devices and the forms in which images are displayed affect our perception of Mars? How are scientists and engineers visually exploring, experiencing and navigating this uninhabitable terrain? Can we better understand this virtual landscape through immersive imaging techniques, or are these simply illusions? And at what point does the glitch invade these immersive spaces, throwing us back into the realm of the image?
Through the analysis of contemporary representations of the Martian terrain, Mars, Invisible Vision and the Virtual Landscape: Immersive Encounters with Contemporary Rover Images offers a new contribution to studies of the digital and virtual image. Specifically addressing immersive image forms used in Mars exploration the research is structured around four main case studies: life-size illusions such as panoramas; 3D imaging; false colour imaging; and the concept of a ‘Mars Yard’. The thesis offers a new understanding of human interaction with a landscape only visible through a screen, and how contemporary scientific imaging devices aim to collapse the frame and increase a sense of immersion in the image. Arguing that these representations produce inherently virtual experiences, their transportive power is questioned, highlighting the image as reconstructed – through the presence of a glitch, illusion is broken, revealing the image as image.
This thesis takes an interdisciplinary approach in which scientific images are analysed through the prism of photography’s relationship to reality, theories of vision and perception, representations of landscape, and digital and virtual image theory. At the heart of this thesis is the act of looking; critical and speculative writing is used to convey immersive encounters with images at NASA and the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (USA); University College London’s Regional Planetary Imaging Facility; Airbus Defence and Space (UK); the photographic archive at the V&A; and the Panorama Mesdag (Netherlands). The research re-examines scientific forms of images against examples from the history of visual culture (be it art or popular culture) to draw parallels between different ways of seeing, representing and discovering the unknown.
The eyes of the Mars rovers provide viewpoints through which we regard an alien terrain: windows upon unknown worlds. Rover images bridge a gap between what is known and unknown, between what is visible and invisible. The rover is our surrogate, an extension of our vision that portrays an intuitively comprehensible landscape. Yet this landscape remains totally out of reach, millions of miles away. This distance is an impenetrable boundary – both physically and metaphorically – that new technologies are trying to break. Mars, Invisible Vision and the Virtual Landscape offers a two-way impact, constituting a new approach to the relationship between real and imagined images in order to demonstrate that the real Mars, however it is represented and perceived, remains distant and detached.
I am fascinated by the ‘invisible visions’ acquired through the use of science’s cybernetic eye, the images of lands we cannot empirically experience.
Current studio practice stems from research into NASA’s Magellan spacecraft and its mission to map and image the hostile environment of Venus in the early 1990s. Intrinsic to Magellan’s radar visions are technological distortions offering a different kind of perception to that of the photographic. It is in this sense that these images are unintelligible, and therefore ask the viewer to fill in the blanks.
Through the use of appropriation in the form of paper collage, to creating and inhabiting a virtual landscape through 3D printing and moving image, I have built up an enquiry into one particular place. My vision of this landscape ‘Dickinson Crater’ has been fabricated through scientific research and the few radar images that exist, the outcomes of which manifest themselves in different forms. I see the translation between the virtual and the tangible within my practice as having a strong relationship to the language of printmaking; whilst each work shares the same content and conceptual methodology, each also shares a material relationship to print.
Interested in the idea of only ever knowing something through representation, I have been attempting to make the unknowable palpable, trying to comprehend something on the very edge of our imagination. It is for this reason that I see my work as oscillating between the realm of the scientific ‘virtual rendition’ and that of science fiction.
School of Humanities
Critical & Historical Studies, 2013–2017
School of Humanities
MA Printmaking, 2013
Luci is an artist, a PhD candidate in the School of Humanities at the Royal College of Art, and an Associate Lecturer in Visual Culture at the University of the West of England in Bristol. Her PhD investigates immersive image forms used in the exploration of the planet Mars: these images are being re-contextualised within an arts and humanities framework. She speaks frequently at conferences and has carried out research at NASA Ames, the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California and the European Space Agency. Her fine art practice is concerned with the transition between the virtual and the tangible within printmaking to explore representations of places and spaces invisible to the human eye.
- MA Printmaking, Royal College of Art, 2013; BA (Hons) Fine Art, Loughborough University, 2011
- Associate lecturer, University of the West of England, Bristol, 2016
- Laboratory of Dark Matters, Guest Projects, London, 2017; Framed Expanse, Phoenix Art Centre, Leicester, 2016; Aether, Imperial College, London, 2016; 50 x 50 – Jealous Needs You Portfolio 2015, Saatchi Gallery, London, 2015; On New Grounds, part of Liverpool Biennial, The Bluecoat, Liverpool, 2014; AstroLAB, APT Gallery, London, 2014; Alter//Shift//Control, Bermondsey Project, London, 2013; Multiplied, Christies, London, 2013; Digital Futures, Design Week at the V&A, London, 2013; Selected Works and Projects from the RCA Graduate Show, Christies, London, 2013
- Leicester Print Workshop Graduate Prize, 2011
- Panoramic Visions: Mars as Image, Seventh International Conference on the Image, John Moore’s University, Liverpool, 2016; Artist Talk for Framed Expanse, Phoenix Art Centre, Leicester, 2016; A Glimpse of Mars through Fractured Illusion: The Materiality of the Stereo-Image, NASA Ames Research Centre, California, 2015; A Glimpse of Mars through Fractured Illusion: The Materiality of the Stereo-Image, Sixth International Conference on the Image, University of California, Berkeley, 2015; Collapsing the Frame and Stepping into the Image of Mars, London Alternative Photography Collective’s September meeting, 2014
- Stepping into the Image of Mars, Prova III, 2016, 45-52; Curiosity’s New Home, exhibition catalogue for You Belong to Me, Kaunus Gallery, Lithuania, 2015, 10-21