Illustration of a Mental Construct Without Direct Representation

Illustration of a Mental Construct Without Direct Representation

Illustration of a Mental Construct Without Direct Representation

The basic concept here is that we are more creative in responding to something, whether real or imagined.

Our first creation can be a supposition, an imagination that we can then respond to. We have a difficult time creating from nothing or from the simple desire to create. However, if we respond to something hidden, even an imagined object, we can create almost freely in dialog with that construct.

Examples of this concept in contemporary art and cinema below:

Sculptor Rachel Whiteread casts the spaces inside and under objects (house, chairs, tables, etc.)

The inside space of an object cast as a solid helps us imagine the object and see the object in ways we haven’t before.

In this image the house can now be visualized as the negative space surrounding the empty space it used to contain which is now cast in concrete.

House, Rachel Whiteread, 1993


Mimes engage in this relationship with the imaginary object as a basic tool of their art almost always embodying and moving inside the negative space of the imagined architecture. Think of the classic performance of the mime trapped inside the glass box.

This is a fun example, below, of a Rowan Atkinson mime routine that also uses audio synch events to “sell” the presence of the imaginary construct, similar to animation.

I don’t want to work, I just want to bang on this construct all day!


Most artists want to move past simply illustrating an imaginary object.

The method of responding to an imaginary object can still be used to inspire a creative process beyond communicating or illustrating the object itself.

In this TED presentation from Wayne McGregor, he outlines his creative processes for choreography of dancers and it often starts with the imagination of an object or space. Then it continues into his communication with the dancers and a kind of collage of motions constructed from multiple processes. The result seems to have no connection to the original imagined objects and the artist seems to have no fetish for communicating the construct he initially responded to. The value of the construct is simply to evoke a response and spark the creative process into action.


The ideas I’m presenting in this post were initially inspired by my experience screening the film “Market Street” by the experimental filmmaker Tomonari Nishikawa.

Unfortunately for this blog, but fortunately for the value of both his work and the audiences’ experience, Nishikawa’s films are not available online .

The original film prints are much truer to his intent and I imagine his abstracted photography and precise frame rates would be muddied terribly by video size, spatial and temporal compressions.

Nishikawa uses single framing, repositioning of the camera between frames, negative space and exposure to illustrate the imagined geometries in his mind.

It is not only a great example of communicating form through negative space, but also a wonderful example of what Norman McClaren said of animation that, “It’s not what you shoot on each frame but what you do between shooting each frame that matters.”

In these consecutive stills the artist is imagining the triangle and using the process of repositioning the camera and his eye between shooting single frames to illustrate the form in his minds eye.

The quick succession of frames in film projection goes farther than suggesting the triangular form but instead seems to actually draw the form fast enough for the audience to actually see it.

Notice the triangular form created by the alternated angles and the frame edge.

Consecutive frame serires from “Market Street”, Tomonari Nishikawa


1 Comment on “Illustration of a Mental Construct Without Direct Representation