(Un)covering the (un)observed

I am currently designing a whole new device (partially for HTS Vanishing point course, but in parallel to the studio work). This new device is based on one of the references given to me at last jury: The Canals of Mars

The Canals of Mars


For a time in the late 19th century, it was believed that there were canals on Mars.

The Italian astronomer Giovanni Schiaparelli, who observed Mars in 1877, was the first to describe, name, and lovingly illustrate mysterious straight lines along its equatorial regions, which he called canali. Viewed with the telescopes of the day, in brief instances of still air amidst the optical strangeness of atmosphere, Mars was tough to figure. There are areas which appear darker or lighter (these are called Albedo features); to an enthusiastic observer, it was easy to speculate of continents, oceans, or even straight-line canals.

Beset by the same optical illusions, many astronomers seconded Schiaparelli’s observations. The maps of the day show a Mars riven with peculiar webs and lines–lines which successive high-resolution mapping of the planet have definitively shown do not exist. The mechanism that caused this illusion appears to be internal: faced with a shifting landscape of foggy forms, glimpsed at through simple lenses of glass through the refractive index of Earth’s atmosphere, the human brain tends to impose order.


Schiaparelli’s map of Mars

The Irish astronomer Charles E. Burton made beautiful sketches of the lines, and (according to an unsubstantiated Wikipedia entry) speculated that they were ley lines used by Martian sorcerers. The American Percival Lowell, who founded the Lowell Observatory in 1894, made the most committed speculations on the subject. Despite ramping scientific skepticism to the contrary, Lowell almost single-handedly popularized the notion of the canals as proof that the planet once sustained intelligent life. His drawings of the canals look like Italian Futurist masterworks or the spacey doodles of Joan Miró.


Lowell’s drawings of the canals on Mars


In fact they were drawing the reflection of their own blood vessels onto what they were seeing, a projection/superimposition of themselves onto an image.


left eye blood vessels, right map of mars

These fantastical ideas relate back to my sentence about the satellite image (believing in what is seen, the view through a telescope changing the perspective of the viewer) and the sentence about the Nazca lines (seeing meaning in patterns, where there might be none)

The device I want to make is a device that uses the following video’s principle to allow you to see your own ‘map of Mars’ aka your eye.

watch starting from 5.28 for the DIY test



The viewing device is meant for me to discover my own personal filter that is always present in my vision but never seen. Our brains filter it out of our perception, it is seen but never perceived. I am discovering the unperceived (Uncovering the unseen, while my brain is covering the seen), then I will attempt to draw my ‘map of Mars’ and make that into another viewing device (drawing printed on acetate) so that I can always be aware of this image that is there but filtered out. Or show someone else what is like to see the world through my eyes.


This entry was posted in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

Comments are closed.