Wandering gaze
Framed photograph, plotter, metal shards, magnet, tripod, viewfinder with IR camera and eye-tracking software

The Wandering Gaze project explores the relationship between the observer’s gaze and a given image, using eye-tracking technology.

Wandering Gaze allows the viewers’ gaze to be transformed into a tangible path that will, slowly and over time, erode the surface of a photograph. This idea of surface was very interesting to me, so I started thinking about a “piercing gaze”, a way of materializing gaze. I was interested in the relationship between transparency and opacity of the photographic image, particularly of the surface where it is inscribed. In Wandering Gaze that is emphasised in a literal way: the more we look at the image, the more it will vanish in front of our eyes. On the other hand, the image is now a performative space as the viewers’ gaze is invited to wander and explore the image, contributing to the piece but, ultimately, causing the print’s deterioration.

The installation consists of an X-Y plotter concealed behind a framed printed photograph, dynamically positioning a magnet behind the image. While observing the photograph through the viewfinder, the path traced by the viewer's gaze is recorded by the eye-tracking system, and then retraced by the plotter-manipulated magnet. On the front of the image, a cluster of metal swarf follows the magnet, and subsequently, through erosion scrapes away the image surface.

This destruction will happen over time, being more prominent in the areas where the visual information is richer. The pieces of metal retain a connection with pre-digital photography itself (gelatin silver processes, tintypes, daguerreotypes...), but also with the technological apparatuses that make use of various metals to construct them.

Areas which greater attract the gaze of the viewer will be more aggressively eroded, eventually leaving only the “neutral” areas visible, i.e. those areas with less visual information. The shimmer of the metal cluster, concentrated in determined areas of the image, resembles that of a robotic insect, materializing the invisible paths traced by our gaze.

Therefore, how does the change in the (im)materiality of the gaze affect the experience of our own bodies? Knowing that looking at the image through the viewfinder will eventually destroy the photograph, will we keep peeking through it? Curiosity killed the cat, or in this case, the print?

Videos by Tiago Rorke
This project was developed with the technical assistance of Makers in Little Lisbon (Tiago Rorke, Maurício Martins e Pedro Ângelo)


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