Vision Machines

Alfons Schilling

Alfons Schilling, Large Wheel, 1981

USA, Austria 1960s–1980s


„In his later Sehmaschinen (Vision Machines), Schilling uses the principle of the stereoscope and binocular vision and the influence that the distance between the eyes and the two different ocular images have on the three-dimensional perception. Looking through his Kleiner Betrachter (small observer, 1972) (…) In Raumumkehrer (Space Inverter, 1974) or Kleiner Vogel (Small Bird, 1978) the view of the landscape or city appears inverted or as if foreground and background have been switched. The idea is not to give the impression of obtaining a false image through his devices that is corrected back to the correct impression once the device is removed. On the contrary, the difference between the diverse impressions confirms that seeing basically provides only impressions and interpretations. His vision machines merely reveal that the eyes themselves function as viewing machines and that their view of the world is colored by their world knowledge. In this way, the image ceases to become a framed surface or idea and expands to become an unlimited and limitless picture that appears everywhere that seeing or visualisation occur. (…)

The sculptural character of his wooden structures and vision machines, for example, reveal their performative qualities, which rely on the connection between psychophysical and cognitive dimensions, only when they are put on, touched and looked through. The works thus refuse to be merely observed and transform the observer into an actor or performer. By looking at the work, the observer participates in the artistic experiment. In this way the exhibition space becomes a laboratory that critically investigates the hegemony of seeing.” (Spiegl 2017: 270–271)


Alfons Schilling, born 1934 in Basel, Switzerland, died 2013 in Vienna, Austria.


Andreas Spiegl, “Create an Image of Seeing,” in Alfons Schilling. Beyond Photography , eds. Fabian Knierim, Rebekka Reuter et al. (Vienna: Verlag für Moderne Kunst, 2017), pp. 286–271.

See also

Alfons Schilling, The Falling Man, 1969, lenticular photograph, 26,5 × 33,5 cm

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