Original Exhibition project by Semir Zeki, considered the “ Neuroaesthetics prophet”

White on White

In collaboration with Vijay Patel e Mondocromatico, organization linked to
Wellcome Laboratory of Neurobiology of the University College London

Museo Pecci Milano
Branch of Centro per l'arte contemporanea Luigi Pecci, Prato
Ripa di Porta Ticinese 113, Milano

Inauguration: Thursday 26th May 2011, 6 p.m
Opening: Friday 27th and Saturday 28th May 2011, 3 p.m – 7 p.m

Background to the Exhibition

Neuroaesthetics, which studies the brain’s involvement in aesthetic and artistic creativity and appreciation, has been inspired by art and the humanities to frame experimental questions about the brain and perception. In extending this approach, we decided to use such knowledge of the brain and of visual perception as we have acquired in the past 25 years to create new works of art. One result is this exhibition, undertaken by us as members of Mondocromatico, an umbrella organization linked to the Wellcome Laboratory of Neurobiology at University College London, which is specialized in studying the visual brain.

Our brain studies have taught us that all knowledge, from elementary visual knowledge on the one hand to the experience of beauty on the other, is subjective and the result of operations in the brain. Arthur Schopenhauer expressed it well when he wrote: “A better understanding and firmer conviction of the wholly subjective nature of colour is a very good introduction to the Kantian doctrine of the likewise subjective, intellectual forms of all knowledge”. And we have used somewhat unusual percepts, that of coloured shadows, as our artistic medium, to highlight this point both artistically and intellectually.

We have also been inspired by the work and thinking of the Russian Suprematist artist Kazimir Malevich, who departed from representing what he called the “objective world” and emphasized instead the subjective world, and the world of feeling. In his late compositions entitled White on White, he tried to eliminate all that he considered to be ‘objective’, including colour and space. He viewed his White on White compositions as being “the embryo of all possibilities” and thus the beginning and end of all form. They came to represent the end of painting for him.
For us in this exhibition, White on White is the starting point for generating not only colours but depths entirely subjectively. We use white sculptures against a white wall and, by illuminating those sculptures with white light and light of one colour, we generate coloured shadows that, in some of the sculptures, also acquire depth. For all their apparently ”illusory” character, these colours are nevertheless real and intensely perceived. They may be “illusory” but reflect the reality of our brain.

Colours and coloured shadows

We use the phenomenon known as coloured shadows to render our white sculpted paintings in multi-colours. Colours themselves do not exist in the world outside; they are creations of the brain. Coloured shadows are a further creation of the brain; they refer to a perceptual phenomenon where the shadow of an object illuminated by white light and by light of a given colour (say red) is perceived in the colour that is the perceptual opponent of the coloured light (in this instance green). Its physiological basis is not well understood, but what is certain is that brain cells whose responses correlate with perceived coloured shadows occur in the area of the visual brain that is specialized for processing and perceiving colours, area V4.

Our purpose is to show how the brain reality even over-rides the objective reality. In addition to the colours created by the brain, some of the depths that you will see are “illusory”. The operations of the brain defy the objective reality and what we see is determined more by brain reality than by objective reality.

Members of Mondocromatico exhibited here are

Semir Zeki
Professor of Neurobiology at University College 1980-2008; Professor of Neuroesthetics, University College London, 2008 -; Founder of the Institute of Neuroesthetics, based in Berkeley and London. He is author of A Vision of the Brain; Inner Vision: an exploration of art and the brain; Splendours and Miseries of the Brain; La Quête de l’essentiel (co-authored with Balthus) and La Bella e la bestia: arte e neuroscienza (co-authored with Ludovica Lumer). He has worked on the organization of the visual brain, including the perception of colour, and on brain mechanisms underlying our experience of beauty, love and desire. And he has lectured on art and the brain at major galleries in Europe and the United States.

Vijay Patel
A recent graduate of the Slade School of Fine Art at University College London whose commissions include work for Ralph Lauren, The Brewery Arts Center and Channel 4. He has contributed to group exhibitions including those at The Arts Club (Mayfair, London), Queens Elm Gallery, Novas Contemporary Urban Centre and Salon Contemporary.

Exhibition details


In collaboration with In collaboration with Vijay Patel e Mondocromatico, organization linked to Wellcome Laboratory of Neurobiology dell'University College London

Supported by Regione Toscana | Toscana Promozione

Patronize by Comune di Prato

Dates 27th – 28th May 2011, from 3 p.m to 7 p.m

Opening Thursday 26th May 201, 6 p.m

Venue Museo Pecci Milano
Ripa di Porta Ticinese 113, Milano
M2 Stop Porta Genova; tram 2 Stop Ripa Ticinese d'Adda; bus 74
Entrance fee free

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