This is a guest blog post by Dr Shelley James, Royal College of Art, a partner on the AHRC Science in Culture Theme Large Grant, Rethinking the Senses: Uniting the Philosophy and Neuroscience of Perception.

How do different senses such as sight and proprioception combine to generate our experience of ourselves moving around in the world? Could we combine these two senses to create unexpected experiences of space and how would our bodies react?  These questions were at the heart of my PhD at the Royal College of Art, and led to experiments in moire patterns: by calibrating sets of lines on multiple layers of glass, the interference effects can create a paradoxical experience of space as the viewer moves around the piece. This led to a conversation with the Rethinking the Senses team at the University of London.

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Copyright Shelley James

Members of the RTS project came to visit my studio, leading to an on-going conversation with Ophelia Deroy, at the Institute of Philosophy, who suggested that we build on Gibson and Walk’s celebrated 1960’s ‘visual cliff’ experiments that aimed to test the relationship between visual and tactile cues to depth in infants.  We decided to create an artwork that could be set into the floor, using moire interference patterns to create the appearance of ‘grooves’ and ‘steps’ and to design an experiment to see whether changes in the spacing and apparent depth of the contours might affect the participant’s gait.

The next few weeks were spent working out the optimum weight and frequency of the interference patterns, tracking down glass manufacturing and printing companies, testing lighting options and working out a system for installing the panel in the Institutes’ offices that would allow us to alter the different parameters for the experiment.

Copyright Shelley James

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The day finally came to test the installation. Participants from a seminar on film-making came up to the Institute of Philosophy to share a glass of wine and seemed to enjoy playing with the work – success!

We’re now refining the installation and experimental design with Ophelia and Merle Fairhurst, and looking forward to gathering our first data in time for presentation of our collaborative work at the Illusions Parade at the European Conference on Visual Perception in Liverpool in September.

This is one of a series of guest blog posts. The Science in Culture Theme is a key area of AHRC Funding and supports projects committed to developing reciprocal relationships between scientists and arts and humanities researchers. More information about the AHRC Science in Culture Theme ECR Workshop on the Lived Environment is available here. Follow us on Twitter @AHRCSciculture for updates from the Theme.