The IncarnationsPavel Ivanov's variations on a theme by Guy Levrier
Click on here to open the first image (the theme),
with the other images following in 10-second intervals.
This series of variations is a by-product of a scientific experiment. From psychological and mathematical considerations, I suggested that the perception of angles in the visual arts is analogous to the perception of pitch in music [LMJ, 5, 49-55 (1995)]. This lead to the conclusion that conform (angle-conserving) transformations of the works of visual art would not change the aesthetic "message" they convey. I performed a number of experiments that confirmed this conclusion. To enhance the effect, the image should be "logically transparent", being based on "well-articulated" directions on the plane. Absract art seemed to be the natural choice—however, not any kind of abstract painting could be used for my purposes. When I got acquainted with the works by Guy Levrier, I knew at once that they were exactly what I needed.
The simplest conform transformation is uniform scaling. Well, the very idea of Levrier's virtual galleries was that the size of the painting did not matter and the observer had to guess it as he/she pleased. The next evident possibility to change the image preserving its form was colour change. There was much speculation about colour and music—and my theory predicted that colour variations should not affect the painting's "message", contrary to many popular views. So, I began experimenting with colour, using Guy Levrier's works for the reference. Modern computer graphics software made such experiments quite feasible.
The result of experiments confirmed my conclusions. Additionally, colour scale formation effects have been observed: when one of the parameters of colour is varied, the set of subjectively different colours obtained is like a musical scale, in that it consists of a finite number of zones, and any variations within the zone do not change the "idea" of the colour, while transition from one zone to another is recognised as colour change. Since colour perception is many-dimensional, I could not expect that simultaneous variation of several parameters would exhibit the same scaling behaviour. However, historical observations indicated that such effects should be present in any kind of perception, and only a few variants of an image would be qualitatively different, forming a kind of scale. Hence, variation sequences might be related to musical melodies, with a definite logic behind them. To become aesthetically acceptable, variations cannot be ordered in an arbitrary way, and they must be chosen from a zone structure resembling a musical scale. The Incarnations will serve as an example.
Basically, the process of creating The Incarnations was quite like writing verse: random expressive elements stick together forming stable clusters, which become the core of the future poem. For another analogy consider the different arrangements of the same musical piece. The Incarnations might be compared with Ravel's Bolero, where the same intonation undergoes a series of timbre transformations (though in a different, non-cyclic manner).
The natural cultural association for this sequence of colour variants of the same image was the idea of reincarnation. The grey background seemed quite natural for the primordial chaos from where all the forms arise, and where they finally disappear. The very graduality of drawing the image in the browser (when first loaded) corresponds to the process of gradual formation of anything definite in the world.
Of course, one does not need to take the traditional ideas about reincarnation for serious. This is just a poetical figure, without any religious or philosophical associations. Still, the ideas expressed by means of art contain a grain of universality in them, and provide hints for more reflection.