Project 16 GOW
January 10th– 10th February 2012

Eleanor MacFarlane

secret portraits in bottles: a visual conundrum

mixed media
antique, vintage and contemporary glass bottles
aluminium and silver leaf, mirror, acetate, silicone
modified LED mechanisms
secret tricky processes

Vessels are bottles holding secret portraits. Depending upon how they are arranged, they huddle together, forming a collective, or line up in single file. However they are placed, they incorporate whoever looks at them in facets of reflections. Vessels exist in layers, inseparable from their surroundings, and the viewer. Perhaps you look at them and see yourself, or someone behind you. Perhaps you feel they are looking at you.
 Vision is not a straightforward transaction between the viewer and what is viewed – objects and images can hide in plain sight, or reveal themselves under scrutiny. Likewise, the portraits within Vessels may not be easy to see - although not obscured, what they are may not be entirely apparent in one glance. Seeing is an optical interaction with an object.
The portraits are glimpses of people, just their eyes, but within that can sometimes be read an entire personality, or the encapsulation of a moment. The eyes appear to float - they are not static, yet not exactly the opposite of that, dynamic, or moving. The point of focus is individual to each.
The Vessels’ eyes are from family and friend’s portraits belonging to the artist. Totally human, betraying character and individuality, yet abstracted from the context of a face they become anonymised, their identity now even a secret from the artist/maker.
What are people but a dynamic form, a container trailing layers and years of provenance. We are a strange collection of elements, reflecting aspects of each other, with mysterious processes we all share in an individual way. The same, but infinitely different. Rather than a reductive view, Vessels examines the wonder of being more than constituent parts.
Vessels grew from an idea of eighteenth century secret portraits of Bonnie Prince Charlie, anamorphic smudges which revealed their true form only when reflected into the shine of a bespoke object. The portrait emerges only when the viewer positions themselves correctly, and is hidden from those without the key.  This way, loyal highlanders could secretly toast the forbidden king, a treasonous act.

A childhood fascination with this portrait (Fig a) in the West Highland Museum led the artist to contrive a way of containing images within the vessel itself, and not dependant on the outside agency of the abstracted image. Bottles become at once the frame and the object, the medium and the subject. Low tech and digital processes combine with elements of manufacture, mirroring both the highly industrialised and handmade aspects of life. Vessels is part of the artist’s quest to find new forms of Moving Image, away from screen and digital media, and towards ideas of film in sculpture, photography without paper, and solid Moving Image.
The Gallery of Wonder is hosting the first showing of Vessels. The artist plans to continue making and showing Vessels in different formats and combinations for years to come.


About the Artist

Eleanor MacFarlane is an artist living and working in London. Originally from Glasgow and a classical musician, she retrained in Fine Art, graduating with a First from Middlesex in 2006. Mostly making Moving Image, she also creates art contraptions and inventions. Her art practice seeks to translate scientific and optical ideas into beautiful insights.
Currently completing an MA, she also is a writer, book reviewer and occasional tutor, and Artistic Assessor in Visual Art for Arts Council England. In 2011 she launched theViewergallery, an arena for online, onsite and pop up art projects, including the theLongLine ongoing drawing and theProgressiveImage moving image screenings.


















Eleanor MacFarlane


Bottles detail

One Bottle

Artist unknown. Bonnie Prince Charlie. around 1746. West Highland Museum

Fig a. Artist unknown. Bonnie Prince Charlie. around 1746. West Highland Museum

Window view