The establishment of cognitively verifiable natural science brought the world closer to the modern age, a world that could be analysed and quantified. A century after the publication of Opticks, however, criticism of Newton’s mathematical approach was heard from an unexpected quarter: in 1810, poet, novelist and playwright Johann Wolfgang von Goethe compiled a twenty-year study on the effects of colour on the human eye, and in his Zur Farbenlehre (Theory of Colours) found Newton’s impersonal scientific exposition wanting on artistic grounds. Granted Newton’s spectrum of seven defractively differentiated colours was perceived by the human eye via the central cortex, but what did that prove? Colours, he argued, appealed directly to our senses; red and blue had effects upon the human psyche that would not submit to mechanistic quantification. Furthermore, while we perceive light precisely because of darkness, light travelling through the blackness of outer space was imperceptible to the eye; only once light hit the atmosphere and reflected off airborne dust did we see a blue sky. Seeing the darkness tint ultramarine each dawn as I sighted the morning star, I really got a sense of what Goethe wrote in his preface: “Die Farben sind Taten des Lichts, Taten und Leiden.” (“Colours are acts of light, acts and sufferings.”) I interpret this to mean colour occurs when light strikes some obstruction, suffering the impact.
…Gazing at bright prismatic light each day, I too had my doubts about Newton’s seven-colour spectrum: yes, I could see his red-orange-yellow-green-blue-indigo-purple schema, but I could just as easily discern many more different colours in-between, nameless hues of red-to-orange and yellow-to-green. Why must science always cut up the whole into little pieces when it identifies specific attributes? The world is filled with countless colours, so why did natural science insist on just seven? I seem to get a truer sense of the world from those disregarded intracolours. Does not art serve to retrieve what falls through the cracks now that scientific knowledge no longer needs a God? I decided to use virtually obsolete Polaroid film to photograph the spans between colours.
What began on Polaroid film has now been expanded to include large pieces of Hermès silk that will be available to be viewed starting June 12 here.