It is a matter of distance and it is a matter of position.
Parallax involves positions and relations and the movement that aligns or displaces an object or objects.
Something is set against a background; one might say it occupies a place. It is seen by a viewer, who changes
position and in so doing, it is as though what is seen has shifted; there is a new line of sight and something, hitherto
unseen, appears (as though it has been revealed), changing what one has seen before. Parallax is geometrical,
mathematical, and useful in astronomy if not always in the viewing of works of art. It is epistemological and
ontological. It is a lovely metaphor, and may be observed as a literary style, as when a story is told through more
than one narrator’s voice, giving rise to different accounts of the same event, as much as it may be taken as a figure
for an exhibition that undertakes a collection of works, to which are invited a number of viewers, who will clearly
have more than one point of view. Yet it is perhaps a matter of the shift that occurs in viewing – on the part of the
viewer, that is - rather than merely a matter of the multiplicity of places from which viewing may take place, against
various backgrounds (including the site of the unconscious, about which one may know very little, simply positing its
existence from time to time or suspecting it when falling into a gap in knowledge). If it were only a matter of a
shifting occupancy, then meaning would flow endlessly, and sometimes, it does not.
However, what is seen, from whatever position, can be determined. It can be tracked down, of course, triangulated
– but only indirectly for the observations are incommensurable. The object (and I do not use the term lightly)
remains somewhat uncertain, even blurry, for in the act of triangulation (a topological space, which suggests
connection, contiguity, and continuity), it does tend to be mutable or unclear. This may be no more than an effect of
optics, as Jacques Lacan demonstrates in his reflection on the experiment of the inverted bouquet, where one may
see an imaginary phenomenon: a real bouquet of flowers in a real vase brought together in a spherical mirror
through a fusion of real and imaginary space by a viewer in an illusion that risks falling apart at any moment if the
viewer is in the wrong place. The setup is simple enough – a bouquet of flowers is suspended under a hollow box,
placed on a stand, more or less lined up with the centre of a half-sphere, nicely polished, at a distance. Without the
reflective sphere, the viewer cannot see the flowers, but can see the vase placed on top of the stand. In the
reflective sphere, the viewer can see both flowers and vase; indeed, the flowers are in the vase in the mirror but the
image is strange, despite the appearance of reality, unless the viewer is quite far away, and distance allows
parallax to do its work in producing a complete and satisfying illusion. Lacan turns this experiment into a metaphor
for the human subject, who has to be in the field of the sphere.
It is a matter of position and it is a matter of distance. And it is where position and distance have an associated
error, which - happily or sadly - includes the viewer.
-- Sharon Kivland 2007