In Melbourne, a touch of the Antarctic

MELBOURNE -- A life-size iceberg has landed in Melbourne, thanks to David Burrows and his modern-day 'Viewmaster.'

MELBOURNE — Chances are—unless you live on either one of the Arctic Islands, in the Northern Hemisphere, or along the Greenland coast—you’ve never seen an iceberg before. And the reality is, for most of us, we never will.

But probably the next best thing to seeing an iceberg in real life, is experiencing David Burrows’ stereoscopic installation—the Mirage Project [iceberg].

While in Antarctica as an artist-in-residence with the Australian Antarctic Division, Burrows photographed one particular iceberg from multiple points of view, recording the location of each photo.

The project, currently on exhibit in Melbourne’s Federation Square, presents these 3D photos in the same spatial configuration as the original photos, providing visitors with a surreal sense of the scale and dimension of a real, life-size iceberg.

The spatial project employs the use of stereoscopes—binocular viewers that encase slides and only allow each eye to see the appropriate left or right image. Built-in lenses then allow the eyes to focus easily.

Stereo-photography is, in simple terms, the art of capturing an image for each eye... and then finding the appropriate method of presenting the correct image to each eye,” Burrows said.

Employing the use of 12 binocular-shaped ‘viewers’ positioned around the Federation Square centre, each viewer is strategically located in a position relative to the other viewers, which recreates the actual scale of the iceberg.

“I also like this format for viewing because it is intimate,” Burrows said. “You have to peep into a little box and only one person at a time can see the image. Once looking into the box there is a spatial sensation of surprise because the box becomes a 'tardis-like' visual experience.”

“Basically the principle is that humans are binocular beings, we have two eyes orientated in the same direction but separated by an average of 65mm. Because each eye is in a different position it will see a slightly different view of the world, hence sending similar but different messages to the brain,” Burrows explained.

“The brain then fuses these two images, suppressing some conflicting information and foregrounding other signals to create what we call vision. There are a multitude of processes and mechanisms at work here, which I won’t go into, but the end result is a cohesive perception of the visual world with a tangible sense of depth. That is to say a combination of the conflicting and corresponding data going from each eye to the brain creates our visual sensation of depth.”

Burrows explains that the visual sensation of depth perception is real since all the normal brain functions for stereopsis are engaged and a window opening onto a visual space is presented. This produces a somewhat strange sensation:

“I think that this is due to the fact that the stereoscope isolates our visual perception of depth. I think the human being is normally reading space and depth with their entire body rather than simply a visual input. Also the slides are frozen moments hence what would normally be a moving scene becomes a rigid vignette.”

Burrows shot the entire project with 50mm fixed length lenses. He attached a GPS to the camera so that each shot was imprinted with a metadata, to identify the specific mapping coordinates. Burrows then employed Vectorworks, an architecture design tool, to locate and lay out the iceberg in relation to the Federation Square location.

Admittedly, Burrows could have chosen a number of things to spatially impress upon, but settled on an iceberg because he found the juxtaposition of a seemingly alien presence within an urban landscape an interesting visual proposition.

“We have a reliance on visuals. We think we know what Antarctica looks like, or can imagine the taste of an iceberg. The neurological responses, generated through looking through these viewers, hopes to facilitate this experience."

Burrows chose the stereoscope because it reminded him of the View-Master slides he played with as a kid. He would spend hours creating stereoscopic drawings with a fixation on perspective, depth and volume.

Marrying the old with the new—in this case, stereoscopic photography (first invented in the 1840s) with the latest in GPS mapping technology—Burrows' was able to re-create what he saw; an image relatively correct in perspective and dimension.

There are some obvious limitations, including the fact that the ‘iceberg’ is static rather than moving, and a clear absence of a soundscape—such as the sound of the sea ice cracking or the high whistles of a pod of seals.

But on its artistic merits alone, Iceberg is so remarkable because it blends a scientific tool for analysis and measurement with Burrows' own fascination with depth of field, in one highly accessible poetic expression. On a philosophical level, it acknowledges that we are curious beings—always wanting to look beyond what we can see.

Photos: Courtesy of David Burrows.

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