This artist constructs strange illusory dimensions
November 5, 2015

Olivier Ratsi on playing with the rules of perception in his mind-bending installation pieces

Experimenting with the possibilities of perception and reality French visual artist Olivier Ratsi deconstructs space and time with his immersive installation pieces. Projecting light across space, he fragments and restructures objects and dimensions, to form illusions of new space and challenge our familiarity with ways of seeing.

Playing with the rules of perception he designs these projections with the viewer in mind. Often they can only be seen completely through a specific viewing point, which has been tailored around the viewers exact position in relation to the space around them and where the light is projected. Investigating the nature and rules of spatial perception Ratsi is able to measure what the viewer might expect to see, and then distort it.  For a recent project ‘Echolyse’, Ratsi built red and white geometric light structures that at first appear flat, but seem to define new space when viewed from a specific point. In ‘Delta’, the next stage of his ‘Echolyse’ project, he sets an immaterial door within the room, to create the illusion of a three-dimensional portal. With these experiments Ratsi wants to draw upon the ways we consciously perceive the world, confusing our minds and our eyes in order to help them to really see.

POSTmatter: What has been your process of developing your various interconnected projects?

Olivier Ratsi: Echolyse dematerialises space through creating an illusion known as ‘anamorphosis’. Its focus is the process of projecting onto a surface that isn’t flat, but which gives the appearance of being. To accentuate this optical illusion, I use ‘peelings’, which are hypnotic lines that sketch out the form I wish to make appear. These lines create an illusion of depth that can only be seen when the viewer is standing in exactly the right place.

Perspicere is a logical follow-up to Echolyse. As well as using the same techniques for both projects, I also deal with the same subjects, namely the perception of space and our ability to see, watch and analyse our environment. Perspicere uses the same techniques, but here I wanted to physically show the visual cone that draws the viewer to the work. I wanted to visualise the pyramid theorised by Italian Renaissance artists. The points, lines and surfaces that define what we call, in terms of perspective, the ‘vanishing point’. 


The viewer can find himself at the centre of a project, but he has the freedom not to be. This allows me to be at the centre and on the outside at once, as an artist and as a spectator. 


PM: You place the viewer at the centre of your Echolyse, Delta and Perspicere projects. How does this shift your own role and agency as an artist within this?

OR: As an artist, my role is to ask questions through my work. I hand out keys to unlock certain thoughts or ideas, but my questions won’t lead to concrete answers.  I am not looking to impose dogmatic viewpoints or absolute truths.  Rather, my role as an artist is to lay down trails and let the viewer appropriate them according to their own sensibility. I don’t try to force onlookers towards the viewpoint necessary to see the ‘anamorphosis’. The viewer can find himself at the centre of a project, but he has the freedom not to be. This allows me to be at the centre and on the outside at once, as an artist and as a spectator. 

PM: Your work deals with architecture, real or modified by your intervention. Do you feel limited by the setup of the gallery space?

OR: My works deals with space primarily and uses architecture as a prop. In creating processes that alter our field of vision and understanding, I override architectural conventions. Challenging architecture allows me to ask questions on many different levels about perception and the very possibility of existence.

With this in mind I don’t feel limited by the constraints of any kind of space.  A space can push me to ask more questions about the surroundings and this can lead to the production of different works and reactions. Architecture plays a major role not only as a support, but also as a player in my work.  It forms an ensemble along with the point of view of the spectator and the medium used to create the work, be it video projection, light or sculpture.


Challenging architecture allows me to ask questions on many different levels about perception and the very possibility of existence.


PM: While your sculptural pieces and installations are not figurative, they require the presence of the viewer in order to fully materialise their perspective. How important is the body within your work?

OR: The body is directly linked to how I envision a piece and design its visually deceptive appearance. There is a direct correlation between the composition of a work, its appearance and its occupation of a space.  In Echolyse, for example, there is a direct alignment between the architecture of the space, the images and the body of the viewer. In Perspicere, the alignment is between the sculpture, the lines of the cone of vision, and the body of the onlooker. The body, and where it is placed within a space, is therefore key to understanding my works. It is what allows us to ask ourselves if what we see is indeed what we believe we are seeing.

PM: Do you view light as a material to work with?

OR: The way that I use architecture in my works is in the first place informative. Recurrent use of light allows me to reveal the structure as a system. Once these first responsive elements have been sketched out, I then seek to overturn that first impression.
With the Echolyse project I aimed to simulate an immaterial space in 3-D, by projecting light on the walls of a room, space or architectural structure. I used diffused light to shape a new area where vanishing points are no longer dependent on the exhibition space. This is why the projection straddles a number of walls, using the corners. The onlooker thus loses all points of reference for the space in which he finds himself. 

PM: With your piece Echolyse, you are referring to the invention of perspective during the Italian Renaissance. Are the much celebrated current technological advances akin to a contemporary Renaissance in your opinion?

OR: For my work, yes. I work with Renaissance inventions, notably perspective, as a “tool”  to put across my approach and ideas. I don’t know if we can describe all of what is happening today as an extension of the research done in Quattrocento Italy, but what does seem clear is that we share a similar scientific and geometric conception of the image.

Olivier Ratsi is part of SHAPE, an EU-funded platform for innovative music and audiovisual art. 


For more information on Olivier Ratsi's work click here.

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